Olympic Games 1908 London

4th Olympiad


Sports: 24

Events: 109

National Teams: 22

Participants: 2,024


The executive authorities of the France-British Exhibition were naturally not so conversant with the exigencies of a great international sporting meeting as the members of the British Olympic Council, and they rightly considered the Stadium to be a very valuable asset in the attractiveness of the Exhibition as a whole, an asset which had eventually cost quite £6o,ooo, if not more, and which had therefore to be so worked as to ensure a return at least, if not a fair profit, on the outlay. It was hoped that everyone who went to see the Exhibition in the latter half of July would certainly go into the Stadium as well, and also that many who were first attracted to the Stadium would pass out of it into the Exhibition. This was a very legitimate and natural hypothesis ; but it led to the installation of a large number of entrances and turn-stiles connecting the Stadium with the Exhibition, and to a system of checks and counterchecks, which occasionally proved annoying to those unfamiliar with the complicated problem to be solved. It was obvious that people who only paid a shilling to enter the Exhibition could not be given free admittance to the Stadium, and that spectators who paid to see the sports could not thereby claim uncontrolled admittance to the Exhibition. On the other hand, the mere proximity of the Exhibition to the Stadium was an advantage which
everyone connected with the Games was ready to appreciate,

ticket olympic games 1908 london

for it not only enabled the athletes, the officials, and the spectators to fill up pauses in the programme with profitable and delightful visits to the sights outside, but it gave them facilities in such buildings as the Imperial Sports Club or the Garden Club for rest, refreshment, and inter-communication which could never have been so luxuriously provided within the building that itself contained the arena of the sports. The arrangement of the safeguards necessary for the proper enjoyment of these facilities was necessarily quite novel and unprecedented ; and it will therefore be permissible to say that it occasionally showed signs of wear and tear, and sometimes broke down almost completely. But on the whole the extremely complicated organisation worked efficiently enough, and its deficiencies were more hardly felt by the casual spectator than either by the athletes or the officials of the Games ; and since this Record is primarily connected with the Games, and only secondarily with the Exhibition in so far as the two came into contact, I may dismiss in these pages the question of the spectators with very few remarks indeed. In the first place it was discovered that the advantage, imagined by foreign critics to be the pre-eminent asset of London's Games, namely, our national love of sport, turned out, curiously enough, to be rather harmful than otherwise to the Stadium attendances. The reason was that we are so accustomed, as a nation, to attend innumerable sporting meetings of every description all through the year that the addition of one more to the crowded calendar was at first scarcely understood. The Boat-race, the Derby, the Final Cup Tie, the great matches of the Cricket-season, the University Sports, the Amateur Athletic Championships, Henley Regatta, and many fixtures more, were to be seen as easily in 1908 as in any other year, and they attracted no fewer crowds of every class in that year than they did before. Apart, therefore, from all questions of time and money, it must be remembered that we were offering only one more entertainment to a public already nearly sated with such shows, and to a nation which
only began to realise the extraordinary nature of the Games themselves when they were nearly over. The meeting was never adequately advertised by the Exhibition authorities, who must have thought they needed no advertisement, and the prices of the seats were at first placed so high that whole blocks remained empty. 

This was a matter, of course, in which the British Olympic Council could not unduly press their views, for they took the Stadium as a gift from the Exhibition authorities, and were naturally obliged to allow those authorities a fairly free hand in the methods they chose to recoup themselves for their expenditure. But it soon became obvious that prices which ranged from £8. 8s. for a box on the opening day to 2s. 6d. for an upper row any morning other than the first or last were much too high, even for the western side along the swimming-bath ; and though prices were originally given at 6d. for standing room on the east side, the other seats on that side were at first also fixed at much too high a figure. The lack of advertisement seriously affected advance bookings, and the rain of the first week discouraged even Londoners from coming in large numbers. Nor could appeals in the newspapers after the Games began convince the public that only a fortnight was given them for seeing the greatest athletic gathering in the history of the world. Yet on Marathon Day at least 9o,ooo persons were in the Stadium looking on, and those outside were offering from 10s. to £5 for a seat.

A total of at least 300,000 persons must have seen the Games in all, which means more in England than, for instance, it might do in Athens, where the whole available population within reach of the sports came to see them every day. The English audience, on the whole, changed from day to day, with a few notable exceptions, and we may therefore consider that in spite of every difficulty a creditable proportion of our population saw the Games of 1908, in so far as those carried out in the Stadium are concerned. And I am not taking into account now either the spectators who witnessed all the Olympic events in other places during the year, or the enormous crowd that watched the Marathon Race all the way from Windsor to the very gates of the Stadium.

(Source document: Official Report 1908,  page 389)

Numbers of visitors:   about 300.000

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