The Olympics barred foreign fans. They want their ticket money back.
By Andrew Keh and Matthew Futterman
The announcement last week that international spectators would be barred from this summer’s Tokyo Olympics brought some closure to thousands of fans who had been wondering for months whether they would be traveling to Japan later this year.
Almost immediately, though, many of these newly jilted ticket holders began nursing a new headache: uncertainty about if they would get back the money they had prepaid for tickets and travel — more than $10,000, in some cases — and, if so, when exactly they would get it.
“At this point they’ve held our funds for two years already, and I’m concerned it’s going to take months more to get them back again,” said Monica Treece, an Olympic fan from Denver who started the process of buying her tickets for the Tokyo Games in the summer of 2019. “Everyone is still in the dark. We’re just waiting.”
Similar worries were expressed in Olympic circles long before Saturday, when Tokyo organizers announced the ban on foreign fans. The decision confirmed an outcome that many had expected as the pandemic plowed on around the world, but organizers offered no road map for fans eager to get their money back.
Fans in Britain were told by the official reseller there, Team GB Live, that they were entitled to a 100% refund if they bought travel options to go with their tickets. About 3,000 visitors from Britain were expected to travel to the Games, including 100 to 200 family members of athletes set to compete.
“We won’t keep a penny of anybody’s money that’s been paid over,” said Sandra Parkinson, general manager at Sports Travel and Hospitality Group, which operates Team GB Live.
Parkinson said that under British law, spectators who bought travel packages with the company must be reimbursed within 14 days. But those who bought only tickets through the company — the majority of Team GB Live’s customers — face a longer wait.
“They will also get full refunds, but it will be slightly later because all the money is currently sitting with the Tokyo organizing committee,” she said. “There is a substantial amount of money tied up.”
Like most fans in America, Treece purchased her tickets through CoSport, a company based in New Jersey that has the exclusive rights to sell Olympic tickets and related hospitality packages in eight territories, including the United States.
When the Games were postponed last year, CoSport offered refunds to its customers — but only for the face value of the seats, not the 20% handling fee the company had tacked on to every ticket. The theory then was that fans were opting not to attend an event that still might happen.
Now that ticket buyers no longer have the option of attending, fans who took a wait-and-see approach last year are wondering if CoSport will again withhold those surcharges — which, for some fans, total hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars — from their refunds, and when those refunds, full or partial, will drop back into their accounts. Some buyers who requested refunds last summer said they did not receive their money back until January.
“You put your money out there and have it tied up for a long time — a lot of people just can’t do that,” said Priscilla Metcalf, an ophthalmologist from Wharton, Texas, who spent more than $5,000 on tickets and was not optimistic about getting her money back in a timely manner.
“It’s a real concern, especially in these economic times, when money for a lot of people might be tight.”
Treece spent close to $10,000 on tickets for herself and her daughter, having arranged a whirlwind schedule of 27 Olympic events in nine days. Like other CoSport customers, she received an email from the company over the weekend — shortly after the decision to bar foreign fans became official — but was unhappy that it was light on details.
“CoSport holds a lot of responsibility right now, and I hope they do right by their customers,” Treece said. “Doing right would be refunding us 100% of what we spent.”
Alan Dizdarevic, a co-chief executive of CoSport and the son of its founder, Sead Dizdarevic, said Saturday that the company was waiting for the International Olympic Committee and organizers in Tokyo to finalize their refund policies. He said CoSport was waiting for details on how much money Tokyo organizers would be returning to his company, and a timeline for when that would happen, before the company could return the money to its customers.
“That is their decision,” Alan Dizdarevic said of Olympic organizers. “We have no say in how they set the policy.”
CoSport has sold tickets to international spectators for every Olympic Games since 1984. For the Tokyo Games, it handled roughly 70,000 tickets, more than half of them sold to U.S. customers. A total of 600,000 Olympic tickets, as well as 30,000 tickets to the Paralympic Games in August, went to overseas buyers, Olympic organizers said.
Dizdarevic said Japan’s decision to prohibit spectators from other countries did not surprise him, but he said he was disappointed because he believed there would have been a way to have international spectators attend safely.
“This would have been the largest global sporting event since the start of the pandemic,” he said.
Some fans have been doubly disappointed, missing a chance to see the Games and losing money in the process.
Jason Tong, 26, of Sydney, Australia, planned a two-week trip to the 2020 Games with his parents before beginning his doctoral studies in England. In May, though, after the Games were postponed, he emailed CoSport, which also handles ticketing in Australia, to see how the company would handle refunds.
CoSport gave him until June 5 to decide if he would hold on to the tickets in the hope of seeing a rescheduled Games in 2021 (it was unclear at that time whether the postponed event would even take place) or accept a refund, minus the 20% processing fees.
Knowing he would not be able to attend the Games this year, Tong said he asked for the refund, reluctantly accepting the loss of hundreds of dollars in fees. He and his family had spent around 8,000 Australian dollars, or about $6,200, on tickets.
“We had almost a two-week schedule planned for the Olympics, so you can imagine these 20% fees adding up,” Tong said.
He predicted that other fans would soon absorb the same blow.
A Facebook page where more than 5,000 fans had been excitedly sharing travel plans for the Olympics, he said, has now become a forum for those same people to vent their frustrations at CoSport and Olympic organizers.
“For some people, this was their dream trip, and they’d been saving up for it,” he said. “Some people in the group are saying they would not consider going to the Olympics again after this ordeal, with how much they lost or just because they were left in the dark so long.”
The headaches may continue beyond the Tokyo Games for fans and ticket sellers alike as they await word on the ticketing program for the Winter Games in Beijing in February.
In a normal Olympic year, ticket companies would have begun selling seats months ago. But the pandemic has delayed a decision by Chinese organizers on whether the country will allow international fans.
“For me, the biggest question is what happens with Beijing,” said Janet Grissom, a psychiatrist from Salt Lake City who has been to the past nine Games. “I don’t know if I want to put a whole bunch of money into CoSport based on what’s happening, just on principle.”