Rio Olympic and Paralympic ticket sales are lagging

David J. Phillip/AP Photo/File

Rio Olympic and Paralympic ticket sales are lagging

By Mauricio Savarese, Associated Press | Posted - Jan. 19, 2016 at 2:02 p.m.

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SAO PAULO (AP) — Ticket sales for the Rio de Janeiro Olympics and Paralympics are disappointing organizers.

Sales "are a little lower than the usual — also because of the (economic) crisis here. But the best tickets are selling very quickly," organizing committee spokesman Mario Andrada said on Tuesday.

Only about half of the 4.5 million Olympic tickets aimed at the domestic audience have been sold.

The numbers are much worse for the Paralympics, with only 300,000 domestic tickets sold out of three million.

"We are a bit worried with the Paralympics," Andrada said. "We have to educate, publicize. In the Paralympics we still need to show that Brazil will be fighting for the top five on the medal chart. For some here, Paralympic sport is still shocking (to those who have never seen it)."

Brazil is in the midst of a deep recession, which is touching all aspects of the Olympics, which open on Aug. 5.

Organizers are scaling back everywhere, cutting about $500 million in expenses to balance the operating budget of 7.4 billion reals ($1.85 billion).

Andrada confirmed organizers will not build a 4,000-seat grandstand for the rowing and canoeing venue at Rodrigo de Freitas lagoon in central Rio.

Organizers have also reduced the number of unpaid volunteers from 70,000 to 50,000.

Andrada said organizers are concerned about an outbreak of Zika virus in Brazil. The mosquito-borne virus has been linked to a recent surge in birth defects including microcephaly, a rare condition in which newborns have smaller than normal heads and their brains do not develop properly.

The Health Ministry says 3,530 babies have been born with microcephaly since October. Fewer than 150 such cases were seen in all of 2014.

While Rio state's health care system was in a deep financial crisis, Andrada noted the games will take place in Rio's winter, "when rain is scarce and good conditions for the mosquito are not as abundant as now."

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