Characteristically bold words yesterday from Lord Coe on the vital question in most Britons' minds regarding London 2012, which is, of course, "How can I get a ticket for the men's 100m final?" If he gets his way it looks like your best hope is to join your local athletics club and pronto:
If you look at the participation commitments, it is clearly important these tickets go to the right people. That means making sure they get to supporters clubs is very important to our ticketing strategy and is part of what we are looking at.
Now we get the feeling we've heard this sort of thing before. Coe and his Olympic organising team are evaluating Wimbledon's model of distributing tickets through tennis clubs, but one of the most repeated complaints about The Championships is that there aren't enough tickets for "real fans". Everybody likes to appeal to the "real fans". They're the salt of the earth without which our sport would be nothing, etc, etc. The trouble comes in identifying who these paragons of sporting enthusiasm actually are. Centre Court is usually pretty full with spectators who have a decent idea what's going on. Can retired colonels not be "real fans"? Are you a real fan? If you think you are, who won this year's Australian Open mens' title and who did he beat in the final? If you knew without resort to Wikipedia that Novak Djokovic defeated Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in four sets then maybe you should go to the front of the SW19 queue, but there are thousands who would be crying foul.
Will those angrily besieging Olympic phone-ins because they've missed out on Usain Bolt and company be just as wound up about the archery or the fencing? Will they be expressing their fervour for athletics by attending some domestic competitions at Crystal Palace? We know everyone, including us, loves the excitement of a truly big event, but that's not the same as being a real fan. We can't help thinking it could all become a bit like schools, with sports clubs as the new catchment areas. Even then, membership subs alone might not be evidence enough of your enthusiasm and you may have to prove yourself over the pole vault bar or in the committee room to show that you more than most deserve that precious seat. With the best will in the world there can only be so many golden tickets to go around.
What most people probably do agree on is that they'd like to minimise the quotient of corporate guests of the type that can barely be bothered to tear themselves away from the bar. Intriguingly, even sponsors of Big Sport will admit that they primarily need tickets to give away as prizes (presumably to "real fans") rather than for their own sake. Yet organisers still often seem locked into a mindset that involves a fairly straight swap of sponsorship for seats.
Some Londoners, meanwhile, are already reacting to yesterday's pronouncements by saying, with some justification, that, since we're footing a lot of the bill, we should have first dibs on the tickets. Recent history, sadly, suggests that many local recipients at other sports bonanzas have been purely interested in how much cash they can get for them and how quickly. Our government, like others before it, has had to sign up to some pretty aggressive anti-touting legislation to host the Olympics, but that has only stemmed the tide in the past rather than turned it back.
In fairness, whatever Lord Coe and his colleagues decide they're probably on a hiding to nothing unless the Stratford stadium and the velodrome will both hold half a million spectators, all with good views and easy access to cheap food. We believe his heart is in the right place, but in our opinion he may as well speak out on behalf of the right of honest, hard working people to priority tickets, because that's all of us, too, right? And we pay the taxes to prove it, should anybody doubt us.
Quietly, though, the NFL might be showing the way. When they've asked for initial interest in Wembley's 80,000 tickets for each of the two International Series games so far the numbers registering have been stratospheric. Blocks of tickets have then been made available to these apparent enthusiasts on designated sales days and, naturally, they're gone within hours. However, closer to game time, when the reality of actually needing to go is keener, they still have a couple of thousand left for those who were slow off the mark nine months previously, but are dedicated enough to be following the build up to the game. Announcements are made where those fans are likely to see them and, what do you know, the potential for a black market is diminished and on game day there's a stadium brim full of passionate gridironites with doubtless a few corporate folk along for the ride, but not so many as to cause disquiet. Lord Coe could do worse than pick up the phone to Alistair Kirkwood.