Ticketless former medallist watches games from afar

At the Rome Games of 1960, the British runner Peter Radford won bronze in the 100m sprint. Radford, now 72, was one of the former British medallists honoured in London’s opening ceremony on Friday night.

Yet while banks of seats have remained empty at many Olympic events on the first weekend of competition, he will not be attending a single event at London 2012. The organisers have not given him a ticket. All he received for participating in the opening ceremony was a free one-day Oystercard to use public transport: while most of the sponsors arrived at the stadium in corporate buses, he came and went on London Underground.

Radford, a former chairman of UK Athletics and now professor of sport at Brunel University, says none of the other British medallists he has spoken to had been given free tickets to the games. “It’s a general policy, as far as I can see,” he says.

The organisers did give former British medallists the chance to buy tickets for their old events. However, the tickets Radford was offered for the men’s 100m final cost £735 each, and he had to buy a minimum of two. He found the price “prodigiously expensive”, and bought none.

Radford’s daughter managed to buy tickets in the public sale, but is taking her 10-year-old son, which the 72-year-old called “a far better use of the tickets”. He himself will watch the games on TV.

Asked about the exclusion of past medallists, he says: “I’m past being angry about these things. I’m resigned to it. It’s a corporate world we live in, driven by large companies. You see it all the time. You see it at [cricket] Test matches, where after lunch the corporate hospitality seats remain empty because they are all still out enjoying themselves. That’s a feature of modern sport, isn’t it?” At these games too, he says, some ticket-holders “couldn’t be bothered to get there” whereas “the British public and also former medallists” would have loved to have seats.

Radford path to winning his Olympic medal is remarkable, having spent part of his childhood in a wheelchair because of a kidney illness. Shortly before the Rome Games he set a world record in the 200m. The only Olympics he himself has attended are Rome 1960 and Tokyo 1964 as an athlete, and Atlanta 1996 where he led the British track and field delegation.

Exclusion of Olympic heroes is not an ancient games tradition. Radford’s own final in Rome was watched by another former medallist in the event, Jesse Owens – something that Radford only discovered decades later, when he watched the race again on video. In Rome on the day, Radford ran the same time, 10.3 seconds, as Owens had in winning gold in Berlin in 1936.