26 Jul 2008

Chinese scramble for last Games tickets

2:13 pm on 26 July 2008

Unwashed, unfed and lacking sleep, tens of thousands of Chinese shouted, pushed and shoved for their last chance at Olympic tickets on a hot and smoggy Friday, threatening to break through barricades.

Ticket hopefuls and security officials screamed back and forth as tempers flared just two weeks before the Beijing Games begin on 8 August.

Loudspeakers blared over and over again, telling people to queue patiently as minor scuffles broke out in the crowd and between reporters and police who struggled to keep order.

"We are doing everything we can to keep the situation calm," a police spokesman said, estimating the crowd at more than 40,000.

Prospective buyers have been limited to two tickets at the same competition, but officials have promised the last tranche holds tickets for events at every venue, if not every event.

Many want tickets for an event in the National Stadium, dubbed the Bird's Nest, or the Water Cube, the two showpiece stadiums that have changed Beijing's landscape.

Long queues had already formed by Wednesday afternoon, a day after Olympic organisers announced the final tranche of 820,000 tickets would go on sale.

By Thursday, 10,000 people had formed a line snaking hundreds of metres away from the booth that opened on Friday, many hunkering down inside tents or under umbrellas to shelter from the 35°C heat.

Tickets for the Games range in price from 5,000 yuan ($US670) for the opening ceremony to just 30 yuan for the softball preliminaries.

Authorities are cracking down on scalpers. The Beijing News said 44 had been detained, including one who had been selling 50 yuan tickets for a basketball match for 5,000 yuan.