As the winter editions of the World Student Games come to a close in Kazakhstan this week, questions are still being asked about what went wrong with the ticket sales.
The games, which started on January 29 and will conclude on February 8, have been eagerly anticipated since the city of Almaty won hosting rights in 2011. So much so, that in the days before the competition began, many lamented that they were finding it impossible to find any tickets. News website Nur.kz reported that ticket websites were informing customers they were sold out for multiple events, while ticket offices outside venues also pleaded lack of availability.
The games — which are commonly known in Kazakhstan by the preferred international name of Universiade — have been touted as a major prestige event on a par with the EXPO 2017 international fair taking place in the capital, Astana.
Preparations have been intense, at times absurdly so. Authorities stopped older cars from entering the city (to keep the air clean), shut some of the main bazaars for the duration of the games, ordered schools to close and advised citizens living near venues to refrain from hanging their laundry to dry outside.
Officials say the actions of unscrupulous ticket scalps have contrived to undo some of that hard work.
On January 31, police detained five touts carrying a total of around 120 overpriced tickets. A Nur.kz correspondent bought a 500 tenge ($1.5) ticket for for 6,000 tenge ($18.5) from one dealer.
Still, the numbers of tickets being sold by the touts is relatively small in the broader scheme of things.
As of February 2, nine ticket speculators had been detained holding a total of 478 tickets — a drop in the ocean compared to the overall number of tickets that should be available. On that same day, it was revealed that the police had questioned the director of the Universiade ticket department, Vadim Dergachev.
Almaty city hall official Zangar Shyngali suggested the shortage of tickets might be down to the failure of sales offices.
“Today we took a tour of the sports venues and we saw once again the organizational problems. At the ticket office for the Almaty Arena, there was a long line. People could not buy tickets for figure skating, even though there were tickets available,” Shyngali told Channel 31 last week.
Another issue is that 30 percent of all tickets are allocated to members of official delegations, sportsmen, accredited journalists and representatives of the International University Sports Federation (FISU).
Social media has, as usual, become an outlet for frustrated sports fans to vent their anger.
Hockey fan Danil Ramin became something of an online sensation with his profanity-laced video rant complaining about lack of tickets for his favorite sport.
“There is no limit to this outrage. How is it possible that there are no tickets at the box office? I came to buy a ticket for the Russia-Latvia hockey game. Let me note that I came [to buy tickets] for the group tournament a few hours early. There are no tickets, but how is that possible when the Halyk Arena can seat 3,000 people? There are no cars in the parking areas, there are no people at the entrance, there are no people at the box office. Clearly, ticket resellers are the kings of the situation here,” Ramin said in an emotional on-video outburst.
The video seems to have had some effect.
Following the success of Ramin’s video, FISU decided to relinquish 90 percent of the tickets it was allocated so as to give more of the public the chance to watch the events.