Scalping Tix With Swedish Women's Handball Fans
Summary: Washington Post staffer helps the parents of two Swedish women's handball players procure black-market tickets for the first Olympic women's team handball match in Swedish history.
My two standby entries in the "ha ha I'm gonna cover some team nobody in America cares about" sweepstakes have long been the Swedish women's and Icelandic men's handball teams. So today, in search of my first Olympic sporting event, I walked over to the handball venue, and what did I see? Four parents of two Swedish women handballers, trying desperately to get into the venue.
"We asked everybody, we asked anybody," one of the fathers, Jonas Ahlm, told me. "If you get us tickets for handball, we will teach you everything about handball. You can have exclusive interview with two girls. You can spend night with them."
His wife, Marie, protested this offer.
"Just eat and drink and maybe some little kissing," Jonas clarified.
At this point, I was committed. The back story: after years of being overshadowed by their national men's team, the Swedish women qualified for their first Olympics this year, even as their male counterparts fell short. The women remain massive underdogs, with a sixth-place finish in the 1993 world championships their best international result. Many of the parents of the women wanted to come to Beijing to support their upstart daughters, but they encountered difficulty procuring tickets, and so only the parents of "Waltzing" Matilda Boson and 2008 Swedish Player of the Year Johanna Ahlm made the trip.
Via some Norwegian handball fan group, they bought tickets to four of the five opening-round games, but couldn't find any for the opener against Hungary. Since they were in Beijing anyhow, they figured they'd show up outside the sold-out 7,000 seat venue, counting on limited local interest in the Angolan, French, Swedish and Hungarian handballing women. But no one was selling.
Two self-described "ticket brokers," hailing from Ohio and Philadelphia, stopped by, but they were scalping fencing merchandise.
"We are going to pray and hope there is some God who sees us," Jonas said, before setting in on a group of volunteers. "There must be something you can do, we're willing to pay a lot of money to get in," he told them. "Now it's up to you to help us. There's no pressure. We're depending on you."
The volunteers made sad faces and explained that they had no tickets.
"Although I understand, there must be some way for you to get us tickets," Jonas said. "Don't just stand there. Do something."
(In case it isn't clear, Jonas was joking throughout. Next, he suggested to the volunteers that he could pole vault over the large fences into the venue. Then he started talking about some sort of traditional Swedish weapon.)
Five more Swedish fans arrived, also hoping to score tickets. They joined us in the courtyard. Two Swedish radio folks appeared, and began interviewing the parents. Matilda's mother began to cry.
In all the hubbub, I noticed two young Westerners slowly approaching the venue, while looking quizzically at their tickets. I asked them if they were handball fans. They told me they had gotten passes to several random events, and that they hardly cared at all about this particular sport. I asked whether they might be willing to sell to some desperate parents. I saw hesitation in their eyes.
When they left to look at a map of the venue, I motioned to Jonas. He had a few words with them, then took them behind a shed outside the venue. We saw them shaking hands.
"It's a deal!" cried out Tony Boson, the father of Matilda.
The transaction complete, the Westerners came over to the Swedes. Both mothers began crying. They reached out and hugged the young Westerners, who had merely asked Jonas to cover the face value of the tickets and their cab fare, about $25 total.
Jonas, who had been willing to pay up to $150, gave them more than they asked, telling them it was "because we love you."
The fathers decided the mothers should take the tickets. They grabbed their Swedish flag and departed. "Because we are gentlemen," Jonas said. "We are happy for the mothers' sake," Tony agreed. And then, moments later, with France-Angola underway and Sweden-Hungary on deck, Jonas's daughter called. The Swedish delegation had found more tickets. They would deliver them outside the venue as soon as possible.
"Now the sun is coming through the clouds," Jonas said triumphantly. "Back in business."
(Postscript: Once inside the venue, the four Swedish parents attracted dozens of Chinese followers, who clapped rhythmically in response to their chants of "Sverige!" The Hungarians, on the other hand, had hundreds of singing and chanting fans. Several thousand purple seats remained vacant throughout both games. And after staying within one goal of medal contender Hungary midway through the second half, the Swedes faltered late and lost their Olympic debut, 30-24.)
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