Violence broke out on today among the more than 50,000 people who queued to grab the last batch of Olympic tickets on sale in Beijing, as police struggled to control the frustrated fans.
"The police didn't have a clue how many people would come here and there was no organisation at all, it was chaos," said Wang Zhongliang, a delivery worker for UPS. It was the last chance for Chinese to buy tickets for the Games, with 250,000 on sale at several locations in Beijing from 9:00am local time for events including athletics, diving, and gymnastics. Demand was so high that more than 10,000 people were in the line by yesterday at one of the main ticket selling centres near the Olympic Stadium, district police chief Xiong Xingguo said.
By early today, huge reinforcements of police were moved in to maintain order as numbers ballooned to between 40,000 and 50,000, Mr Xiong said. Mr Xiong conceded that police had been taken by surprise by the numbers. "The situation was chaotic and difficult," he said. "Once the newspapers released the news about the ticket sale, too many people came at once so we had a security problem." A Hong Kong journalist was detained by police today while covering the chaotic scenes, organisers and a witness said.
Despite the pushing, jostling and discomfort, Xu Wengang, an information technology expert, said that he thought the method of ticket sales was fair. "This way everybody gets a chance. But that's also the problem, because so many people came. It's a lot of trouble but it's fair," said Mr Xu, 30, looking for tickets for the synchronised swimming. There were smiles too from people like 23-year-old Lei Peng, who had slept on the street for two nights.
The engineering graduate from eastern China's Anhui province was close to the head of one massive queue and managed to score two seats to one of the hottest event of the Games the final of the men's 110m hurdles. Chinese hopes for an athletics gold medal rest on Olympic and world champion Liu Xiang who is defending his 110m hurdles title. "It was hard but worth it," said Mr Lei, who had been queuing since midday on Wednesday.
Han Ruxiang, 76, had spent two nights sleeping on a bamboo mat so that he and his 67-year-old wife could see the finals of the diving competition. "How can you be Chinese and not go to the Olympics when it is in China?" he said. "I am tired but so happy." Unlike Mr Han, others were not prepared to queue for themselves. Ding Ye, 27, said she had got two tickets for the diving competition for her boss who runs a food supply company.
"He sent me in his place," she said. There is a flourishing black market in selling tickets at a massive profit, even though scalping has been outlawed. Police have arrested 60 ticket touts over the past two months, according to state media reports. Outside Beijing, 570,000 tickets for football matches went on sale in football competition host cities Tianjin, Shanghai, Qinhuangdao and Shenyang. Altogether around seven million tickets were up for sale for the Games, with around 75 per cent going to China's vast domestic audience, with the rest made available overseas through each country's National Olympic Committee.
Today's release of tickets was the fourth and final round of sales for the August 8-24 Games. *AFP