A total of 8.8 million tickets were sold for the London 2012 Olympics for events spanning 19 days. Basic math says potentially 463,157 spectators were in attendance daily at 34 Olympic venues — with exactly eight Visa-only ATMs to serve them all. Basic math says that’s an ATM-to-user ratio of 1:57,894.
Of course, not all tickets will have been used. But if even half of them were, it would still present a 1:28,947 ratio — lower than any developed country or, for that matter, some emerging economies. And it doesn’t take into account the approximately 70,000 volunteers, 21,000 media members, 8,700 technical and team officials, and 6,000 paid staff present at the games — not to mention the 10,500 athletes that the Olympics are ostensibly about. In all, 116,200.
No wonder, then, that it was a Pretty Big Deal when contactless POS terminals (which, to begin with, accepted only one card — Visa) went on the fritz at the 90,000-seat Wembley Stadium during a double-header Olympic football match on the evening of Sunday, July 29.
Visa cardholders who expected to use plastic or mobile phones to buy food and drinks at the event found themselves in immediate need of paper, with no ATMs — not even a Visa-only machine — anywhere in the stadium. Comment sections of Internet news reports about the breakdown were peppered with remarks from irritated spectators, who expressed annoyance with the card-only policy.
Every option but the tried-and-true
The Wembley failure underscored what the ATM Industry Association’s European chapter had said all along — that attempting to enforce a single payment method was a disservice to visitors to the London Olympics.
“Back in 2011, ATMIA Europe dialogued extensively with Lord Coe, chairman of the London 2012 Organizing Committee, to try and prevent this kind of situation arising,” said Flora Hamilton, executive diretor of ATMIA Europe. “But he and his senior team refused to be moved, stating that the sponsorship terms that Visa had negotiated with the International Olympic Authorities required them to allow the removal of ATMs from and around the Olympic sites.”
And when they said “removal,” the IOA meant just that, said Ron Delnevo, director of the U.K. Payments Council and managing director of Bank Machine for U.K. and Europe, which had an ATM at one of the Olympic venues.
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