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China organisers rapped over 'sold-out' stadiums

November 16, 2010 12:09 IST

Despite a rampant home team and a legion of passionate fans, organisers of the Guangzhou Asian Games were embarrassed into issuing more tickets on Monday to bolster disappointing crowds.

Promises of warm crowd support and boasts of sold-out competitions have trickled off the lips of Chinese officials, who had hitherto enjoyed comparisons to last month's Delhi Commonwealth Games.

But Delhi's problems filling stadiums appear to have also plagued Guangzhou, where attendances have fallen flat even as the Chinese continued their relentless bullying of opponents from Tokyo to Tehran on day three of competition.

A near-empty football stadium in Guangzhou during the Asian GamesThe hosts hauled in another 17 gold medals to bring their tally to 54, as rows of deserted seats mocked the marquee table tennis semi-final in the evening session between the home side and North Korea, a tense and engaging contest that deserved a bigger audience.

While top-class competition between the East Asian powers has seen the judo and swimming venues tip over the half-full mark, and China's triumph in the men and women's team badminton drew a near-packed house, other tournaments have struggled.

"Even that (all tickets were sold) we found some space in the venues for the spectators and we were wondering why people who received these tickets weren't coming," Olympic Council of Asia president Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah said.

"It is because of security or losing interest or they don't like this kind of sport?"

As in Delhi, the blame was pinned on corporate ticket-holders who had failed to take their seats for the event as the OCA president announced another 400,000 tickets would be sold to the public after would be-spectators were turned away from half-full venues.

"We're going to release the details to make sure that those 400,000 will not create another problem but to solve the spectators (problem) of entering the events," Sheikh Ahmad said.

While missing fans may have largely put paid to fears of poor crowd behaviour at the Games, the crowds that have assembled in respectable numbers have enjoyed some top-quality sport and largely in harmony for a region riven with political and diplomatic disputes.

The venue for China's last 16 knockout tie against South Korea was one notable exception on Monday, as both the Under-23 team and sections of the Chinese crowd did themselves few favours.

While China fete their sporting heroes like few other countries, handing them honorary Communist Party posts along with multi-million dollar endorsement deals, the country's national soccer teams enjoy precious little love.

A crushing 3-0 defeat by the Koreans prompted Chinese fans to yell "Sack the coach! Sack the team!" as players trudged off at the Tianhe stadium.

One of the Asian Games' biggest drawcards, Japan's golden boy swimmer Kosuke Kitajima, may sympathise with the Chinese soccer team's sinking feeling after he was thrashed in the 100 metres breaststroke, ending his eight-year grip on the title.

Clearly out of sorts after a hiatus from competition last year, the Olympic 100 and 200 metres breaststroke champion finished fourth, trailing winning compatriot Ryo Tateishi.

"I knew after my turn I wouldn't win the race. Although I swam faster in the morning, I didn't swim fast enough," said the 28-year-old, who also disappointed with a fourth in the 50 metres on Sunday.

With their talisman thumped, Japan were again engulfed by the Chinese tidal wave in the pool. The hosts racked up another five golds to leave the much-hyped battle for supremacy between the bitter rivals all but dead in the water.

China now has 14 golds in the pool to Japan's four at the halfway mark of the competition. The teams notched 16 golds apiece at the 2006 Games in Doha.

Japan, with 13 golds, also appear in danger of losing their battle for runner-up honours, with the South Korean shooters propelling their delegation's total to 18 titles after another fierce gunfight with the hosts at the Aoti Shooting Venue.

China narrowly took the points with five of the eight titles on offer in the rifle prone, rapid fire and running target disciplines, with South Korea taking the rest.

South Korea's Kim Hak-man displayed cool resolve in clinching the men's 50m rifle prone title but then put the intense regional rivalry in perspective when asked what the win meant to him.

"Today is my son's birthday. The gold medal is the best gift for my son," said Kim.

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