First the good news – thousands more tickets are set to be released for this summer’s games. The bad news? They’re for the two cycling events which many assumed would be free. The London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG) has provoked the ire of the British Cycling Association by announcing plans to charge spectators to watch critical stretches of the cycling events.
The plans will see two prime viewing areas flagged for charging. The first is along 2km of Box Hill, comprising the tough zigzag road component of the race. The second is at the summit on Donkey’s Road, likely to be a good place to see breakaways, attacking manoeuvres and potential pile-ups.
LOCOG had been applauded for negotiating with the National Trust and increasing capacity at Box Hill from 3,500 to 15,000 after protests from spectators and cyclists, the current Sports Personality of the Year Mark Cavendish among them. Yet there is much anger at the proposal to charge spectators for the first time to view the critical hilly sections. It's particularly disappointing that the event was offered as a consolation for those who missed out on tickets in the ballot last year. When the race route was launched, cyclist Bradley Wiggins himself said of the summer’s course: “It’s free for spectators so they can come along and poke their heads over the barriers.” Such head pokers can now look forward to being escorted away by security.
LOCOG stresses that 120km of the 140km of the race is still free to view for spectators. British Cycling President Brian Cookson said that while he understood “You can't have an unrestricted free-for-all like the Tour de France”, he lamented LOCOG’s plans, musing: "It would be absolutely better if it was free of charge because cycling is a sport that is traditionally free to watch." London Assembly Chair of the economic, culture and sport committee Dee Doocey called the proposals “Dreadful and most regrettable", adding, "it is totally against what LOCOG has been saying all along.”
LOCOG has yet to announce prices for tickets, but claim they will reflect the cost of erecting grandstand seating, toilets and the all important refreshment areas. The announcement follows reports this week that tickets will be required for those entering the Olympic Park without a specific event ticket. Those thinking of avoiding the hassle entirely and watching it at home should be warned that they'll incur the company of celebrity crisp merchant Gary Lineker.