Sochi Olympic athletes are whizzing down mountains, jumping off half pipes, and skating their way to gold medals, but where’s everyone else?
Although television ratings have been reasonably solid, attendance has been spotty in the opening days of Russia’s Olympic games*, with empty white seats gleaming at the edges of TV screens around the world. Women’s hockey has seen the smallest crowds, at times less than 50 percent of capacity. But even historically popular events, such as speed skating and mogul racing, have seen underwhelming turnouts.
The empty seats aren’t necessarily due to a lack of sales. Part of the problem is that ticket-holders haven’t shown up. Some 80 percent of ticket inventory has been sold, according to Olympic organizers, but threats of terrorist attacks, logistical issues, and a seeming lack of interest has left certain spectacles pretty spectator-less. As many as 4,000 people didn’t make it to their seats over the first two days of competition.
Which is why the local Olympic committee is getting clever about how it fills those rows upon rows of seats. To prevent empty stands being caught on camera, they’re getting volunteers to fill them. "If we see there isn’t a turnout and there are seats available, yes, we invite some of the volunteers to join in," said Alexandra Kosterina, a local Olympic committee spokeswoman, during a news conference.
While it isn’t the first time a host country has filled its seats creatively—London did so with soldiers back in 2012—it's particularly embarrassing considering that Sochi is minuscule in size compared to past Olympic games. In London, for example, there were over 8 million tickets available. In Vancouver, there were about one million. In Sochi, there are only about 500,000.
While that’s bad news for the Russian Olympic Committee, photographers have been having some fun documenting the sorry situation.
*Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly referred to Sochi being Russia's first Olympic Games. Russia previously hosted the 1980 Summer Games in Moscow.
This post originally appeared on Quartz, an Atlantic partner site.