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1,600 empty seats at major Japanese gymnastics competition reserved by single unpaying person

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A big mistake? Or did someone have it out for Pommel Horse?

The NHK Cup is a national gymnastics competition that dates back to the 1960s and also serves as a qualifying event for gymnasts seeking spots on the Japanese national team at the Olympics and World Artistic Gymnastics Championship. Its position as both a figurative and literal springboard for young athletes, makes it a big draw for spectators as well.

This year’s event was no different, and with increasingly relaxed COVID-19 restrictions, the NHK Cup was finally expecting a relatively packed house. In fact, in the days leading up to the event, tickets were going fast for both the women’s and men’s events on 14 and 15 May respectively. In the case of the men’s event, so many were sold that additional seats were added on the third level of the Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium.

However, when the competition was finally held, it was plain to see that the upper deck was empty and the second tier was only very sparsely occupied by spectators.



The reason for this disparity was revealed by a member of the Japan Gymnastics Association a few days later on 18 May. It turns out that during the period where tickets were on sale, a single person had reserved approximately 1,600 seats, mainly on the second level, but never paid for a single one.

According to the sales records, this person had made about 600 reservations for 14 May, and 1,000 for 15 May. The actual attendance for each day was 518 and 1,251, which means half of the expected tickets sales were made by one individual who ultimately didn’t pay for them.

The NHK Cup’s online reservation system was set up in such a way that people could claim seats but not have to pay until a later date. If no payment was made by the deadline, then the seat opened back up. Apparently, there was no limit to how many seats a single person could reserve so by the time their deadline had lapsed, organizers had already had to make adjustments for the huge increase in demand.

▼ The view from the second level of the Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium

To make matters worse, because of COVID-19 countermeasures no tickets were sold at the venue. Since the second deck was completely empty, gymnasium staff had to quickly usher every person who reserved a seat on the third deck down to a seat on the second level.

This situation may sound very similar to a case in Osaka in 2020, where a man reserved 1,873 seats for two professional baseball games and then cancelled all but two for himself so he’d have some space. However, unlike in that instance the Japan Gymnastics Association doesn’t appear to be pursuing criminal charges in the matter.

They did consult the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department on what certainly appears to be a textbook case of “obstruction of business” the Japanese criminal law that penalizes those who deliberately interfere with people’s ability to conduct business. However, the association only said that they would prevent a recurrence of this incident by limiting the number of tickets one person could reserve.

This could change in the future, but perhaps they felt they were partly to blame for having such an glaring vulnerability in their system and decided to just leave it at that. There’s also a chance that since they had a name to follow up on, they found that the person wasn’t acting maliciously, but just had trouble using the system themselves and made the reservations by accident.

▼ We can’t completely rule out a cat on the keyboard either

Personally, I have a sneaking suspicion it was that guy who pocketed over 46 million yen in accidentally sent COVID-19 relief money. My theory is that he was going to use the money to take all of his friends to enjoy the NHK Cup but after losing it all in online casinos was unable to complete the transaction. At this point, I really wouldn’t put it past him.

Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, Jiji.com
Top image: Pakutaso
Insert image: Pakutaso
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