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1 year ahead of Rugby World Cup, concerns emerge over ticket scalping

A screenshot of a ticket scalping website overseas where tickets for the Rugby World Cup Japan 2019 finals are up for sale.

TOKYO -- With Sept. 20 marking one year until the start of the Rugby World Cup Japan 2019, scalpers are already wooing ticket buyers online, prompting a group of Diet lawmakers here to seek anti-scalping legislation.

While the organizing committee of the quadrennial event has banned the resale of the tickets in theory, efforts to crack down on scalping through requests to site operators are apparently proving in vain, as other scalpers pop up on the internet.

As similar issues are feared to emerge ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, a suprapartisan group of Diet legislators is seeking to introduce laws regulating the illicit resale of tickets with penalties.

After the initial batch of tickets for the 2019 Rugby World Cup went on sale in January, over 600,000 tickets have already been snapped up through a lottery system. However, some of those tickets are being resold on scalping websites overseas for hefty amounts, with the highest price tag being some 600,000 yen for a finals ticket -- about six times the original fee.

While the general sale of tickets will officially kick off on Sept. 19 through a lottery system, World Rugby COO and Head of Rugby World Cup Alan Gilpin warned would-be spectators against purchasing tickets from scalpers, saying unofficially resold tickets can be invalidated, and called for awareness about risks entailing scalped tickets.

According to the rules set by the organizing committee, tickets purchased through means other than an official resale website to be launched next year will be invalid, but relevant laws have yet to be sufficiently developed. While ticket brokering is banned under local government ordinances against public nuisance acts, such bylaws are premised on crackdowns outside event venues and other public spaces, and do not target online scalping.

The group of lawmakers from different parties is working on legislation to curb online scalping and other irregularities, which is designed to slap violators with up to one year in prison or a fine up to 1 million yen. The group is expected to submit the bill to the Diet later this year.

The organizing committees of the 2019 Rugby World Cup and the 2020 Tokyo Games are considering measures to identify and invalidate scalped tickets, but are facing a myriad of challenges such as how to curb the costs for developing relevant systems or the time it will take to identify the holders of such tickets at admission gates.

When Japan and South Korea jointly hosted the 2002 FIFA World Cup, tickets bearing the holders' names were adopted, but organizers ended up not checking the holders' IDs at venues.

Lawyer Kensaku Fukui, who is versed in the ticket scalping issue, said legal regulations "would work to deter not only malicious cases by ticket scalping businesses, but also cases involving citizens seeking to earn a little extra money." He added that efforts in the private sector are also essential, such as promoting e-tickets to facilitate personal identification.

-- No rules on online scalping exist worldwide

While event promoters are calling for regulations on ticket scalping, operators of intermediary sites have voiced complaints. Kei Nishiyama, president of Ticketstreet Inc., a Tokyo-based ticket distribution service provider that is dealing with 2019 Rugby World Cup tickets, said, "Purchasers have the right to choose how to deal with the items they have bought, including reselling them. Sales and purchases can only be viable when there are sellers and buyers." He added, "In general, those attending events will determine the prices of tickets. It is tantamount to communism for organizers to control those prices."

But lawyer Fukui refuted Nishiyama's argument, saying, "To hold down the ticket prices is part of a strategy for many fans to enjoy the event. Ticket resale sites would leave fans no choice but to buy highly priced tickets, providing a hotbed for irregularities."

Ticketstreet said it is putting efforts into making a comprehensive evaluation of prices and other factors in order to avoid brokering items for profit. The company also said that it would consider requests from promoters if they ask for a suspension of their items from sale.

While Fukui insists that joint efforts among site operators to voluntarily refrain from ticket resale would be effective in curbing wrongdoing, Nishiyama said, "There is no clear common ground for the resale of tickets in the world. It's a difficult issue."

(Japanese original by Takumi Taniguchi and Akira Matsumoto, Sports News Department)

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