When the Rio police hold up signs that welcome you “to hell,” it doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence in their ability and/or willingness to protect you as a guest in their country for the 2016 Olympic Games. The Rio 2016 chief executive Sidney Levy has confessed that security fears are his biggest worry in advance of the Olympics, saying “We should never forget that these days we live in a society that’s very in danger.”
Protests at the Rio Galeão-Tom Jobim International Airport at the end of June included a large sign written in English saying ““Welcome to hell: police and firefighters don’t get paid. Whoever comes to Rio de Janeiro will not be safe,” while others held up smaller signs; one saying “there won’t be any Games without a salary,” and the other saying “Rio will grind to a halt.”
Francisco Dornelles, interim state governor for Rio de Janeiro has already admitted that both the Olympics and Paralympics could be a “big failure” if changes aren’t made in security and transportation plans to handle the anticipated 480,000 tourists who will be flocking to the country for the August 5 official start of the Rio Games.
In June Dornelles made an unheard of first-time declaration that a “state of public calamity in financial administration” could threaten “the fulfillment of the obligations as a result of the Olympic and Paralympic Games Rio 2016.” The Brazilian National Development Bank had already rejected a payment of $280 million to the state in early June because of a history of failure to pay back previous loans.
At that point Michael Temer (Brazil’s interim president while Brazil’s senate debates whether or not to impeach elected president Dilma Rousseff for corruption) had agreed to release federal funds to cover any of Rio’s shortfall. This would be based on a prioritized list of necessary projects to finish for the Games, one of the necessary unfinished items being the subway line linking the city center with the Olympic Park site. However, the state is still waiting for that $860 million payout from the federal government, according to Dornelle.
With the financial collapse Brazil has suffered, the country has seen its various communities devastated by drugs, gangs and gun crime, skyrocketing security concerns to an all-time high. In mid-June a group of 25 heavily armed men stormed a Rio hospital to free a suspected 28-year-old drug trafficker who was being treated for a gunshot wound. The shootout that left one dead and two wounded took place at Hospital Souza Aguiar, one of the medical facilities recommended to treat athletes and tourists during the Games.
Even though police had advanced warning about the planned rescue, there were still only two policemen guarding the suspected drug trafficker when the attack happened. The response by Fabio Melo, a military policeman who was one of the two on guard at the time of the attack, was shared with a local newspaper: “Thanks be to God I managed to get out unharmed. But you know how it is, right? We are unprotected. I’m unprotected, you are unprotected. The whole of the population.”
In an interview with a French newspaper, one officer belonging to an elite unit said to be key in providing Olympic security said the various police stations in the area are out of “paper or ink for the printers, there’s no one to come in to clean and some stations don’t have a water supply anymore so the toilets are not functioning. … Members of the public bring toilet paper to us.”
Some Olympian and Paralympian athletes already in Rio to train have been robbed and it was just weeks ago when body parts washed up on the shore in front of the Olympic Beach Volleyball Arena located on Rio’s famous Copacabana beach.
Raw sewage still flows into the severely polluted water in areas being used for swimming, rowing and sailing. Sailors are battling heavy trash as they try to move through the water without damaging their craft while U.S. rowers are training in special antimicrobial suits. Adding insult to injury, a new antibiotic-resistant superbug has just been found on Rio beaches.
And then there is the continuing problem of the Zika virus. This is due to virus-carrying-mosquitoes still reproducing thanks to all the standing water that’s the result of a huge country-wide lack of sanitation. It might not be surprising that a number of fans would opt to stay home and watch the Olympics from the safety of their homes. But it is surprising that a number of athletes who have spent their lives training for this have chosen not to compete, knowing another opportunity won’t come for another-four years. When you add all this together, you have a very real recipe for problems on a colossal scale
By Connie Wardman
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