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Attendance Problems at Indoor Track

March 6, 1999

MAEBASHI, Japan (AP) _ It may be a once-in-a-lifetime chance for people in this central Japan city to see the best athletes the world has to offer, although you’d never guess that from looking at the stands.

So far, the 20,000 seats at the World Indoor Athletics Championships have been mostly empty.

``I didn’t expect it to be like this,″ Ethiopia’s Haile Gebrselassie said after winning the 3,000 gold on Friday. ``I thought the stadium would be full.″

Yuko Ogihara, a 36-year-old housewife who came Saturday, said the only reason she came was that she got free tickets from a friend.

``I guess track and field isn’t really part of our lives,″ she said, looking around at the sea of unoccupied seats.

Atsushi Hoshino, a press official for the International Amateur Athletic Federation, acknowledged that holding the event in a small city with only one local newspaper made publicity a critical problem.

``If this had been Tokyo, we could have done more to get the word out,″ he said.

Thousands of schoolchildren were brought in during class time for the opening ceremony Friday, but they left long before Gebrselassie raced.

Although organizers gave Friday’s attendance at more than 8,000, that figure included athletes, officials and the media. And by the end of the day, the crowd had thinned even more.

Kosuke Saida, a 20-year-old college student, said he would be a lot more excited had NBA stars come to his hometown.

``I’m going to be honest,″ he said, admitting he did not recognize the name of a single athlete taking part in the event.

His parents had been pretty much expected to buy the tickets, valued at 4,000 yen or $33, he said. It is common in Japanese communities for people to have to buy tickets through friends and the office to help make a local event a success.

Interest in Maebashi, a city 60 miles north of Tokyo, has been so low, one schoolteacher who is working as a volunteer for the event said she kept that a secret from her co-workers for fear she would be seen as an oddity.

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