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Thursday, Aug. 23, 2007

Osaka athletics meet fades at starting gate

Staff writer

OSAKA — Poor ticket sales and extremely hot and humid weather are threatening to turn the upcoming International Association of Athletics Federations meet in Osaka into a public relations disaster that could affect Mayor Junichi Seki's re-election prospects later this year.

Aside from spectators, the 11th IAAF World Championships are expected to involve 7,300 people, including nearly 2,000 athletes from 203 countries and territories. The Aug. 25-Sept. 2 championships are second only to the Olympics in terms of size. For many international track and field athletes, they are also second only to the Olympics in terms of importance.

But concerns are mounting over poor ticket sales. While just over 70 percent of the tickets for Saturday's opening ceremony and the men's 100-meter dash Sunday have been sold, IAAF officials said that, overall, only 46.8 percent of available tickets have been sold.

"Over the past few days, we've been working the phones very hard to sell tickets. Events with Japanese athletes and with well-known foreign athletes will draw good crowds," Seki told a news conference Wednesday afternoon.

Of particular concern are ticket sales late next week. While no official figures were available, local media reports indicated only between 10 and 30 percent of tickets for Aug. 29-31 events had been sold as of Wednesday.

Osaka officials received a blunt warning last week from IAAF President Lamine Diack, who delivered a letter to the mayor expressing his concern over attendance. Diack warned there was a negative effect to the slow ticket sales that put the success of the championships at risk.

Asked what the city planned to do to boost attendance, especially late next week, Seki offered no plan, except to say it was hard to get people to come because the events featured no well-known Japanese or international athletes.

Weather is also said to be a factor in the poor ticket sales. Daytime high temperatures in the mid- to upper 30s are expected for most of next week. While efforts have been made to increase the amount of water available to athletes in events like the marathon, those braving the heat and humidity are being advised to bring along plenty of extra water.

While Diack has expressed satisfaction at efforts Osaka has made on behalf of those participating in the event, poor attendance is likely to raise questions about Seki's administration when he seeks re-election in November.

Many voters were critical of the city's decision to spend tax money on hosting the IAAF event, remembering the large amounts the previous mayor spent on Osaka's failed bid for the 2008 Olympics.

Seki refused to speculate on the upcoming election, saying he would deal with campaign issues once the IAAF was finished.

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The Japan Times

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