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Japanese Fans Seek Missing Tickets

June 11, 1998

AIX-EN-PROVENCE, France (AP) _ Here in this languid city near the Alps, there’s trouble afoot. Trouble with a ``t,″ as in tickets.

Japanese fans who traveled halfway around the world to cheer on their team in its first World Cup appearance are finding out, just days before the first match, that they might not have tickets to the games.

While five Japanese travel agencies reportedly were deciding to cancel World Cup tours because some 12,000 tickets failed to materialize, a group of 76 fans already here waited Thursday to find out if even that much-smaller number could be met.

At last count, they had been shown just 40 tickets by representatives of Nihon Kinki Travel Co., a well-known Japanese agency, according to members of the tour group.

``I’m trying to be optimistic,″ said Masami Tachi, a 34-year-old housewife from Tokyo. ``But if we don’t get tickets soon, we’re going to take the tour coordinator hostage. We will not kill him.″

Packages of travel, hotels and tickets generally sold for about $1,800 each to Japanese fans.

Representatives of Nihon Kinki were said to be scouring the French countryside for tickets to Japanese matches. Tachi said she wasn’t looking for a refund.

``We came here to see the World Cup,″ she said. ``It’s not good enough to get the money back for the tickets.″

French organizers said Thursday they were prepared to sue anyone involved in ticket scams and insisted that all tickets had been distributed according to signed contracts.

Bruno Travade, a spokesman for the World Cup organizing committee, said he could not explain the missing 12,000 Japanese tickets, but that representatives of the only three licensed ticket agencies for Asia _ JT Travel, Ken R Tours and Prime Sports International _ picked up their tickets at the organizers’ Paris headquarters between April 27-29.

``We have the receipts, signed by representatives of the tour operators, that they collected the number and classification of tickets they had contracted for,″ Travade said.

Worldwide, he said, 138,000 tickets had been distributed to 17 licensed agencies. Other brokers who peddled World Cup tickets face legal action, the spokesman said.

``We will sue anyone or any organization who undertakes to damage our image or intentions,″ Travade said. ``And we encourage individuals to sue the persons who cheated them.″

Tachi and her travelmates trekked to the Japanese training site from Geneva, Switzerland, about 150 miles to the northeast, where they are staying after a flight from Tokyo that first had to stop in Helsinki, Finland.

``We’ve gone through hell to get here,″ said Kazayuki Meda, who quit his job at an automaker so he’d have time for World Cup watching.

When the group got to the training site, however, they were disappointed again. Practice was closed to the public.

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