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Empty seats at Rio Olympics persist as Brazil waits for first gold medal

A child plays on empty seats during a Rugby match between Colombia vs. Kenya in the Deodoro Stadium at the 2016 Rio Olympics on Monday. REUTERS/Phil Noble

RIO DE JANEIRO—Rio Olympics organisers are struggling to fill up venues, with large chunks of seating left empty across many sports as host Brazil looks for its elusive first gold medal.

Spectators at morning sessions of less popular events have been particularly sparse, even though organisers said 82 percent of all tickets have been sold.

Sunday's evening session at weightlifting attracted only a half-full stadium, while women's rugby sevens on Monday morning had only a crowd of a few thousand with the vast majority of seats at the Deodoro stadium empty.

The kayaking competition fared little better and even the road cycling races in the past two days saw only a few thousand fans lining up along the inner-city course.

Games ticketing chief Donovan Ferreti said many of the cases of empty seats took place at events with more than one session. "We have a lot of double headers (double sessions)," he said. "Maybe spectators arrive for the first session or just the second session."

Organisers have not been helped by the host nation, with Team Brazil so far winning only one medal—silver in shooting—and failing to shore up more enthusiasm among the local population.

Brazil's football team even failed to beat Iraq on Monday in another disappointing performance from the nation's most popular sport.

The International Olympic Committee is eager for the host nation to do well at each Games to increase interest in the event and boost ticket sales.

Many of the unused tickets for some events belong to sponsors of the Games.

"It is normal that the person with the ticket can decide when and if they will go," Games spokesman Mario Andrada told reporters. "What we are trying to do in the case of sponsors is if we have this information in advance we can use the space for the social project."

Organisers have set up a scheme to bring school children to the stadiums to help improve capacity, but so far it has proved unsuccessful with television cameras at several venues sweeping across empty parts of the venues.

"Some of the events had massive crowds and massive atmosphere," Andrada said. "We don't see empty stadiums as a growing trend. It is easy for us to fix it and we will do it."