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'Rent-a-crowds' used for 'sold-out' events

From the L.A. Times comes this weird tale about the crowds -- or lack of them -- at many Olympic venues. All the tickets for all the events have been "sold out" for weeks, yet an event might have only 25% of the seats filled. No one knows exactly why, but now organizers are busing in crowds to fill seats.

So many foreigners have complained that the Chinese have been busing in rent-a-crowds to lend the stands a festive atmosphere.

"It's better. Nobody likes an empty stadium," said Dave Andrews, 27, of Perth, Australia. "But you can tell they've just been brought in here to fill the seats. They know nothing about [field] hockey. They cheer at all the wrong times."

The whole thing is surreal for family and friends of athletes, who are scrambling to find tickets at inflated prices, but still can't get in.

Tickets were in such short supply for Friday night's field hockey match between Australia and Pakistan that some relatives of players couldn't get any, and those who did had to fork over as much as $130 apiece. At the box office, clerks told disappointed ticket seekers that the game was "sold out."

But inside the 17,000-seat Olympic Green Hockey Stadium, the stands were a sea of blue -- the color of the rows and rows of empty plastic seats. When the game began, only a quarter of the seats were filled, leaving an incredulous Donna Dancer, wife of Australian hockey coach Barry Dancer, to ask, "Where have all the tickets gone?"

Unlike in past Olympics, there are no walk-up sales. This must really suck for people who traveled thousands of miles only to be told an event is sold out, then having to watch on TV and seeing acres of empty seats.