When tickets for London’s 2012 Summer Olympics go on sale next month, a special unit of the city’s police force will be on the lookout for those who would resell their allotment.
Operation Podium, a unit of 36 Metropolitan Police detectives dedicated to rooting out ticket companies and others planning to resell their Olympic tickets, was formed in June of 2010 and already has made 37 arrests.
Under Section 31 of the London Olympic Games and Paralympic Games Act 2006, those who resell Olympic tickets without the consent of the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games (LOCOG) are subject to prosecution. LOCOG has agreements with specific companies to sell 2012 Olympic tickets, and anyone not on this list, including sellers outside the UK, is considered to be selling tickets illegally.
Detective chief inspector Nick Downing told the Associated Press this week, “If we have evidence of money laundering we will look to seize assets (globally) and do a money laundering investigation.” Downing said that the unit would work with international law enforcement to address activities abroad, potentially making use of extradition proceedings to prosecute.
While law enforcement is more than willing to arrest offenders, it is clear that not all illegal selling will be stopped, so the unit’s primary focus will be on disrupting business for these resellers, whether by shutting down their sites, seizing assets, or cutting off payment sources.
“What we are not saying is that we will arrest everyone,” insisted Downing. “We can’t do that and our whole process has been about identifying their vulnerabilities…we will use every relationship that we have to make this a hostile environment.”
Ticket fraud in the UK carries a maximum fine of £5,000 ($8,058), but there are anti-fraud charges on the books that can lead to a five year prison term.
As the Metropolitan Police work on criminal issues, LOCOG is attempting to reduce fraudulent ticket sales by planning their own ticket exchange site, which will be similar in function to the site built by Vancouver’s Olympic Committee (VANOC) for the 2010 Winter Games. The one notable difference thus far between the VANOC site and the proposed London site is that LOCOG will allow no ticket resale above face value, effectively shutting out all those hoping to make a profit from sales of Olympic tickets.
Also, by the time ticket applications are open in March, LOCOG hopes to have a Web site up that will inform consumers whether or not the ticketing site they are purchasing from is an authorized seller.
These efforts to uncover illegal sellers are in direct response to revelations of ticket scams and poor ticket management during recent Olympic Games, including fans failing to receive tickets purchased from a UK broker for the 2008 Beijing Summer Games. Several months after the 2010 Vancouver Games, it was revealed that an organized group was able to use VANOC’s own resale site to purchase $2 million dollars in tickets with stolen credit cards.
The attempts to quash unauthorized resale in the UK also are happening in an environment traditionally hostile to ticket brokers. Despite efforts by the Association of Secondary Ticket Agents (ASTA) to educate the British public about the secondary market and rehabilitate its image, resale in the UK still tends to invite suspicion, with many seeing the ranks full of “touts,” or fraudulent brokers. This enduring public attitude has contributed to the UK government’s attempts in recent years to extend restrictions on ticket resale to concerts and other events.
While Operation Podium’s officers will be on alert for suspicious ticketing-related activities as of March 15, the date British fans may first apply for tickets, no tickets will be issued until after the April 26 application deadline, and if there are more applicants than seats for an event, those applicants will be entered into a lottery for entrance. Application is open on the LOCOG site and other locations for certain European countries, but all others must apply for tickets through their own country’s Olympic Committees.
This week, LOCOG released an events schedule for the games, along with pricing ranges for each event, with some prices sure to raise eyebrows. Tickets for the opening ceremony start at £20.12 ($32.50) and rocket upwards to an amazing £2, 012 ($3,243). Closing ceremonies start at the same price and go up to around £1,495, or $2,410.
There are plenty of bargains available for those without thousands to spend on one event. Starting prices for almost every event range from £20-£40 ($32-$64.50), with medal rounds running a bit higher. Some events will start higher, such as the 100 meter track race, where Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt is expected to defend his gold from 2008. Prices for the final heat in the 100m range between £50 ($80.50) and £725 ($1,168.50). In all, more than 2.5 million tickets will sell for the rock bottom £20 fee, and over 200 sessions will offer a £16 ($26) special entrance fee for those 60 and older and a “pay your age” incentive for children ages 1-16.