Visa card payments crash at Wembley during Olympic football tournament

30 July 2012

In a sign that the long desired move towards a ‘cashless society’ is likely to encounter many setbacks, if not outright rejection, fans attending the London Olympics football match between Team GB and the United Arab Emirates at Wembley Stadium last night found that they could only purchase food and drink for cash after their card payments were rejected.

Spectators at Wembley Stadium on 29 July were told that they could not make Visa payments, the only credit or debit cards permitted because of its status as an official partner of the 2012 Olympics, when the card payment system at the venue crashed.

Ahead of the 2012 Games Visa requested the removal of a number of cash machines at Olympic venues that worked on the UK Link automated teller machine (ATM) system, which permits all credit and debit cards. Visa only replacements were instead installed. According to the UK Payments Council a total of 27 dispensers were replaced with just eight Visa ATMs.

However, Visa responded that it was not responsible for the problem. “We understand that Wembley’s systems failed and therefore they were only accepting cash at the food and beverage kiosks,” said a spokesperson for the group. “This cash-only decision was made by Wembley management and not Visa. We are working with the Wembley team to help them fix this [problem] as soon as possible.”

News analysis
It was hoped that the Olympic Games in London would act as a spur for the adoption and consumer uptake of card, and particularly contactless card, payments with spectators able to travel to the events on a contactless Oyster card using London’s transport system, access arenas using smartcards, pay for rides in black taxis using Visa PayWave terminals and for food via the same terminal readers and Near Field Communication (NFC) technology at food stalls. One of the other sponsors, Lloyds Banking Group also launched a mobile contactless payment (MCP) London Olympic phone with Samsung and other partners to try to encourage uptake of this particular NFC-enabled phone technology as well.

All these marketing efforts surrounding the London 2012 Olympic Games depend on the technology actually working, however, otherwise customers will just return to old fashioned fail safe ‘paper’ technology in the form of cash. Last night’s events will not have advanced the cause of the ‘cashless society’ long advocated by Visa and others in the financial services sector, such as the banks, who have to pay for the physical transportation and security procedures surrounding the use of cash in society, without any kind of recurring fee.

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