Olympic Stadium in Rio
There were plenty of empty seats as the women’s football tournament kicked off at the Olympic Stadium in Rio.
  • Tickets to be handed out to 240,000 underprivileged schoolchildren
  • Less popular sports, such as rugby sevens and golf, targetted

Rio 2016 organisers will launch a new project to give away more than 200,000 tickets to schoolchildren to help to fill the gaps in stands, the Guardian can reveal.

Officials also told those coming to the Games to “fasten their seatbelts” for a bumpy ride following a cost cutting programme that has reduced the number of volunteers and reduced bills in a host of non-essential areas.

Organisers said that because they had hit their 1bn Reais revenue target, they were in a position where they could give tickets away – despite having earlier promised not to do so. The tickets will be used to fill gaps in the stands for sports less popular in Brazil such as golf, rugby sevens and hockey.
Olympic football gets under way in almost-empty stadium in Rio
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The Rio 2016 director of communications, Mario Andrada, said the tickets would go to 240,000 underprivileged schoolchildren who had already taken part in education programmes related to the Games.

“There are several sports that are unknown to the youth, like golf and rugby. We teach these kids Olympic values, we teach them how to play these sports,” he said.

“The social programme will kick in in the sports we don’t know. In field hockey for example, the kids learn how to play and had a lot of fun. But they never saw a real field hockey game.”

Andrada said that overall around 80% of the 7.5m tickets had been sold, including those at the most expensive price points.

“There will be 240,000 kids across different projects in different areas. We reached 100% of the projected revenue. We sold the most expensive tickets, so we can afford to give some away.”

Andrada said that, as predicted, Brazilians were living up to their reputation of buying tickets late – snapping up a record 65,000 on Wednesday.

But there were embarrassing swathes of empty seats at the first action of the Olympics, the women’s football match between Sweden and South Africa but the stands were fuller for the Brazil v China clash that followed.

An IOC spokesman said: “Rio 2016 has a full venues policy and we will have to wait to see how they achieve that.”

Early in the ticket sales process, organisers promised not to give any tickets away but an earlier scheme promised by the Rio Mayor Eduardo Paes foundered because he was not legally allowed to buy tickets to give away.

Andrada said that athletes and spectators should prepare for a different sort of Games-time experience but promised that Rio would prove the Olympics could be delivered in a different way.

“When you decide to run an event of this magnitude with a balanced budget, no public money and without leaving bills for society to pay – it shakes. Fasten your seatbelt because it’s going to be a bumpy road. We won’t sacrifice field of play or the health of the athletes, but we can sacrifice everything else,” he said.

“From printers to no TVs in rooms, we also reduced the number of volunteers. The international media thought we were reducing the Olympic experience, but without aiming at it we have become an Agenda 2020 lab.”

Agenda 2020 is the pet scheme of IOC president Thomas Bach which, among other things, has promised to reduce the cost and scale of the modern Games.

“Everything is ready but everything can be improved. It will look better with the look and feel. We were not happy we had to fix the village, we apologised to the athletes and the National Olympic Committees for not being totally ready there,” he said.

“We can safely say that every single event of this magnitude has its share of problems. We are preparing these Games in specific economic and political circumstances in Brazil.”