Don’t ban touts – they’ll get you your Olympic tickets

Mark Littlewood writes for The Times

Lord Coe wants to ensure that the 2012 Olympics are the greatest show on Earth, rather than the greatest scam. The British taxpayer will feel it’s a bit late in the day for such sentiments. We’re already spending more than £9 billion on hosting what basically amounts to a fortnight of people running, jumping and throwing things around in our capital city.

But of course, the chairman of the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games isn’t referring to the egregious waste of public money; he’s underscoring his determination to prevent the little guy from making any sort of a profit out of the 2012 fiasco.

To this end, as tickets to the Games go on sale today, the penalty for ticket touting is to increase fourfold. If you seek to subvert, alter or undermine the exact allocation of tickets as determined by Lord Coe and his central committee, you could be hit with a fine as high as £20,000.

But what exactly are those who are running a secondary market in ticket sales supposed to be doing wrong here? My interest in athletics is tiny. I’m unlikely to waste even ten seconds of my life watching Usain Bolt win the 100m final on television. If I had a ticket for this “prestige” event, I’d want to sell it. That way someone who actually cares about the men’s sprint can get a 9.58-second fix and I can use the money for something I’m interested in — such as following my beloved Southampton Football Club.

It’s called “trade”. A tout provides a useful preference-delivering, matchmaking service — hooking up those who don’t really want their tickets with those who really do. The seller, the buyer and the tout are all winners in this transaction: it’s only Lord Coe who is left frustrated.

I’ve used touts before and have been grateful for the service they provide. It’s rare indeed not to be able to source tickets to a Saints game “legitimately”. But it does happen. And it happens, of course, for the most desirable and important matches. I’ve had no qualms in maxing out my credit card and paying way over face value to watch my club, and I’d do so again.

Organisers of big sporting events often plead that they want to ensure tickets get to “real fans”. Effectively, they want to prioritise certain interest groups and avoid the whole allocation being gobbled up by affluent corporate types. Fair enough. Lord Coe might decide that members of recognised athletic clubs should be able to get cheap seats for the Games.

But once they’ve got the tickets, why prohibit them from putting them on eBay or selling them on to a tout — perhaps so they can buy a new pair of running shoes?

This article originally appeared in The Times on Tuesday 15 March.