Page last updated at 16:20 GMT, Thursday, 21 August 2008 17:20 UK

China touters rue star's drop-out

By Jennifer Pak
BBC News, Beijing

A billboard emblazoned with the image of star athlete Liu Xiang - who was forced to drop out of the Games - in Shanghai
Millions of Chinese were disappointed when an injury forced Liu to drop out

Olympic tickets were being sold for as little as a tenth of their previous black-market value after a Chinese athlete dropped out.

The price for tickets to see the 110m hurdles plummeted after athletics hero Liu Xiang withdrew.

There were also small but noticeable pockets of empty seats during the race at the "Bird's Nest" stadium on Thursday.

Had China's most famous athlete been in the race, it would have been packed.

Tickets for this event, which had a face value of up to 800 yuan ($117), were the most sought after at this Olympics.

Good for some

But prices for black-market tickets began falling immediately after Liu Xiang's stunning exit from the event during the heats on Monday.

That was good news for people trying to find last-minute tickets.

One American, who would only give his first name, Mike, was even given a ticket for free by a passing stranger.

"If Liu Xiang hadn't dropped out, I could have sold just one ticket for 15,000 yuan," said one tout, who was selling tickets at a tenth of that price just two hours before the event.

Beijing police previously said they had been cracking down on touting, announcing they had seized 276 people, including 37 foreigners.

'Not causing trouble'

According to Chinese state media, 18 foreigners caught touting have had their stays in China shortened or have been deported.

But ticket tout Mr Li, who sat outside the closest subway station to the Bird's Nest, said he had not noticed a crackdown by police.

A ticket tout in Beijing
Ticket touts seem to ply their trade with impunity
"If you're not causing trouble or throwing grenades, they won't do anything," he said.

Like Mr Li, other touts were openly holding out their tickets for sale. One crouched in front of a sign that said "Scalping of Olympic tickets is prohibited."

Near the entrance to the stadium, touts were calling out to see if anyone wanted tickets. Policemen and soldiers stood nearby, but took no notice.

Under the rules, ticket holders are allowed to transfer their tickets to someone else, but are not allowed to make a profit.

Beijing Olympic organising committee spokesman Wang Wei said at a press conference earlier this week that the police were doing their best to tackle the problem.

"They have been trying to distinguish which tickets are being fairly sold and which are being scalped for a very high profit," he said.

Police have warned that anyone found touting tickets could be detained for up to 15 days.

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