K E I R R A D N E D G E C O M M E N T A R Y
—– One of the great frustrations for Danny Jordaan, in the run-up to the 2010 World Cup, was that South Africa’s organising boss was forever being assailed by critical questions about security.
The European media, in particular, always held safety of fans and tourists as a No1 concern and Jordaan and his organising colleagues were never allowed to forget it.
Security has not been the media’s priority fear for Brazil’s hosting of this year’s Confederations Cup, next year’s World Cup and Rio de Janeiro’s 2016 Olympic Games.
Main concern has been the need for FIFA and the IOC to administer a repeated “kick up the backside” – to quote Jerome Valcke’s immortal phrase – over the stuttering state of preparations.
Security had remained a secondary issue because, after all, if Brazil proved incapable of hosting sport’s crown jewels then every other issue fell away.
Now, past the point of no return on all three, security has shot to the top of the agenda.
Lingering concern has always existed over whether sports tourists could be insulated, in their event bubble, from criminality whether low-level violence on the street or an overflow from the favelas.
A first alarm bell rang when Brazil’s military police clashed with players of Argentinian club Tigre in Sao Paulo in the final of the Copa Sudamericana (Europe League equivalent) back in December. The second leg was abandoned at half-time – with the hosts declared the winners – after visiting players and coaches complained they had been threatened at half-time by gun-toting police.
FIFA president Sepp Blatter said expressions of international outrage should serve as a warning to Brazil’s security authorities and Sports Minister Aldo Rebelo insisted that “the government will take all necessary measures to guarantee safety and security.”
“This was,” he added, “a one-off incident which had to do with the bad feeling which arises occasionally in matches between South American teams.”
Yet another such “one-off incident” occurred earlier this week and in yet another World Cup host city, Belo Horizonte: Atletico Mineiro’s 5-2 victory over Arsenal of Argentina exploded into fighting between visiting players and the Brazilian military police on the pitch at the final whistle.
Reuters reported that “Brazilian police, who have a reputation of taking to the pitch at the slightest hint of trouble, were quick to use force to control angry Arsenal players who had confronted the match officials at the final whistle, including pointing guns at them.”
But the incidents at these two games are far less concerning than other issues inbetween.
The military police is an issue in itself. Calls have grown in urgency for the disbanding of a force whose ethos has been described as a hangover from the years of military dictatorship. At the end of last month eight military police officers were arrested over the execution-style murder of two youths in the Bras suburb of Sao Paulo.
AAP reported: “[Sao Paulo] has seen a surge in violent crime in recent years, and police frequently have been accused of excessive use of force.”
Amnesty International has long fretted about the means by which the Brazilian authorities will retake control of the favelas. That concern was enhanced by the manner (tear gas, etc) of last month’s forced eviction of several dozen indigenous squatters from the crumbling old Indian museum complex next to the Maracana stadium.
Only a week earlier the commander of one of the specific ‘police pacification’ [UPP] units in the northern zone of Rio was jailed for six years for accepting $15,000-a-week ‘protection money’ from a notorious drugs trafficker.
Hitting the international headlines, above all, was the abduction and gang-rape of an American student on a public transport minibus heading downtown out of Copacabana. Her French French boyfriend was handcuffed, hit over the head with a crowbar and forced to watch the six-hour ordeal.
The attackers took turns behind the wheel on a drive out to Niteroi where they went on a spending spree with the foreigners’ credit cards. Once they spent out, the attackers drove the pair back to Rio and forced the woman to fetch another credit card. The two were ultimately dumped near the city of Itabori, some 50km from Rio.
Of course robbery, violence and rape are crimes common to every country. What happened that night in Rio was no different, sadly, to the trauma undergone by other luckless victims of similar, simultaneous outrages elsewhere around the world.
But, as Danny Jordaan will know from South Africa 2010, when the focus of the world is on you, any and every incident assumes international proportions.
Belatedly maybe, but Brazil’s authorities should understand that the safety and security spotlight will be relentless from now until the Closing Ceremony of the Olympics in 2016 . . . assuming they have a stadium capable of hosting it.
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