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Is Rio safe for the Olympics?

Four years has passed since London 2012, meaning it’s now time for the Olympic carnival to roll into another city. This year the honour goes to Rio De Janeiro, who won the bid with visions of samba street parties and cocktails on Ipanema. The games are surely one of the biggest regular logistical challenges in the world and this year’s is no exception, with 15,000 athletes from 206 countries converging in one location, and that’s not even mentioning the small city of journalists and media staff that will tag along. With this organised chaos all about to start, one question has many onlookers concerned- is Rio safe enough for the Olympics?

A Notorious Reputation

For decades the city has had an unwanted reputation as being troubled by organised crime, drug trafficking and murder- an image not helped by many portrayals in pop culture. Whilst the murder rate has actually been falling in the city relative to the rest of Brazil- and is actually lower than several large cities in the USA- there is no doubt that areas of the city still have very serious endemic crime problems. As recently as June this year, there were reports of running gun battles in the city’s Favelas as police tried to recapture an escaped drug kingpin before the start of the games. Others have drawn attention to the alarming figure of 2036 killings in the first 4 months of this year. A string of incidents in the run-up to the games has also led to some alarming headlines-

  • In May, 3 members of the Spanish sailing team were robbed in the street at gunpoint by 5 youths whilst out walking in the Sanata Teresa neighbourhood
  • In June, 2 Australian Paralympians were robbed at gunpoint whilst training on their bicycles, which were stolen in the attack. Wheelchair athlete Liesl Tesch reported that the robbers had initially demanded money, before pushing them violently off their bikes
  • Local police reported that a Russian diplomat had fought off and killed a man who attempted to carjack him with a gun this week, however Russia has since disputed that the man involved did not work for their embassy
Police enter Complexo do Alemao
image via wikimedia

Securing the City

Despite dramatic headlines, authorities have sought to reassure athletes and tourists that they will be safe in the city. To do this, they have boosted police and law enforcement numbers in the region, with over 47,000 security professionals and 38,000 members of the armed forces being called on to help with the games. Despite this, some have raised concerns that most of the investment has been towards sheer manpower, as opposed to the high tech infrastructure such as high resolution CCTV that is key to security operations in Europe and America. The Independent quotes a Brazilian security expert-

“…Brazil has under invested in security technology and equipment for the Olympics and is trying to compensate by doubling up the numbers on the ground with more men… Investing in high tech security equipment would have been far more effective than depending so heavily on the eyes and ears of individuals.”

Heavy Handed?

There are also grave concerns about the nature of some of the policing that is underway. In April, Amnesty International called attention to what was described as a “Surge in killings by Police“, happening as they tried to cleanse the Favelas of violent elements before the games. 1 in every 5 homicides in the city were perpetrated by a police force that is increasingly adopting hard-line tactics. Most worryingly, they pointed to evidence of extra-judicial killings being carried out, as well as use of force to quell protests in the city.

Ultimately, it looks like the extra resources brought in by the authorities should help prevent problems for many of the visitors, but serious issues will no doubt remain for many residents of the city’s most deprived neighbourhoods.


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