ISTANBUL (AP) — The empty seats that have greeted teams at the Under-20 World Cup in Turkey are a disappointment to FIFA.
Jim Boyce, the chairman of the FIFA Organizing Committee for the tournament, said Monday that he was unhappy with the turnout that has averaged only 4,828 spectators for the first 12 matches at the six sites.
If the trend continues, it would be the lowest attendance ever for an Under-20 World Cup dating back to 1977 — the next lowest being an average of 9,667 in the Netherlands in 2005. Several sites, including Istanbul, were far below the average with the opening France-Ghana match only attracting 2,800 fans in a 50,000-seat stadium.
Boyce had expressed concern before the tournament about empty seats, as only 300,000 of the 1.3 million tickets had been sold.
"Despite the Local Organizing Committee's excellent event preparation, I am nevertheless very disappointed by the match attendance figures," Boyce said. "This tournament is a wonderful chance for Turkey, but the low number of spectators currently detracts from this opportunity."
Boyce and local organizers were hopeful those numbers would rise as the tournament reached the knockout stages.
"I am confident that it will improve as the tournament progresses," Boyce said. "I am sure that those who have seen the matches already on TV will have realized that they can go to the stadium and witness some fantastic football and possibly the next Messi, Xavi, Iniesta, Kaka or Ronaldinho - all of whom have previously participated in this competition."
A spokesman for local organizers did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The embarrassing sight of near-empty stadiums could hurt Turkey's chances of hosting bigger events in the future. It is competing against Madrid and Tokyo for the right to host the 2020 Olympics.
Boyce said before the tournament that this event — the second biggest FIFA competition after the World Cup — was a chance for Turkey to show its potential for hosting big events.
"It's very important the Turkish football public come out and give great support to this tournament," Boyce said last week.
"I know Turkey for example is very keen on hopefully hosting the likes of the European finals," he said. "Obviously an event like this will put Turkish football on the map and hopefully will help them in their bid in the future to host bigger tournaments such as a World Cup."