The People’s Games

Elisha Chauhan finds out why the organising committee for the 2014 South American Games in Santiago gave away most of its tickets for free. 

With the curtain dropping on the 2014 South American Games with today's closing ceremony, host city Santiago can look forward to a new era of sports events for its local people.

The Chilean city endured failed bids in 2006 and 2010 before landing rights for this year’s showcase. But hosting the event was never the ultimate goal for Santiago, and rather just a catalyst for the development of the region.

“We are not very big on the South American and Pan American maps, so we saw organising these Games as part of our growth. That’s the main reason we thought we should bid,” Santiago 2014 executive director Marcela Gonzalez Herrera told SportBusiness International.

“One of the key points behind constructing the facilities was to have a positive effect on the country’s sports participation. For example, we did not have an aquatics centre for diving. Until now, all the divers had to travel to Cuba to train.”

A $19-million velodrome in Peñalolén, east Santiago, was also built for the Games, and was the largest part of the $45-million investment that the government put up to cover the total cost of hosting the event.

This was in addition to a 5,000-seater sports gymnasium, an archery centre, a beach volleyball stadium, an Olympic training centre, a BMX park, and a new open park around the 50,000-seater national stadium that was renovated two years ago.

However, the Chilean government – which changed hands during the Games that ran from March 7 until today (March 18) – was not aiming to make a return on its investment, and instead opted to give away the tickets for the event.

“This is a state-funded Games so 80 per cent of all the tickets were free. This is because we wanted to invite the entire region to celebrate this party, so the government made the decision that they did not want to charge. This includes spectators from all over the world, not just Chileans,” says Gonzalez.

Made available online from February 3, the tickets for the event were 75 per cent reserved within a week, and all unsold tickets were also obtainable right up until the event.

The seats with better views – which count for 20 per cent of all tickets – were sold at a maximum price of $12. These were mostly for aquatic and gymnastic disciplines, with premium seats for athletics costing the lowest at around $4 per ticket.

The logic behind giving away the majority of tickets was to ensure that the events would sell out, and in hope that the South American Games would encourage a sports culture in Santiago and Chile as a whole.

“We expect these Games to mark a new era in Chilean sport,” Gonzalez says.

“Chile is currently only a football-focused country with also a bit of interest in tennis but, with these Games, we’re expecting to invite and show people other sports. After the event, we’re expecting not only for more people to be involved in sports, but more people being involved in different sports, not just football.

“With the facilities being open to the public after the Games, we are also hoping that people will feel motivated to practice new sports, and we are very confident that these Games are going to change sports in Chile for good.”

And a by-product of hosting a successful Games? Gonzalez believes it will open the door for more major events to be hosted in a region that effectively uses sport to develop its society. 

“We really hope that if we do a really good job in hosting these Games, the new president will take the next step in hosting, which is the 2023 Pan American Games,” she says.

“Of course, the government uses [major sports events] as a campaign to promote Chile to all of the visiting countries and media, but its main focus is building infrastructure that is going to last for the next 50 years.”

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