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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 19 September 2018

At the Rio Olympics, Brazilians lead the field in crime

Despite the assurances, it's been business as usual for Rio's criminals.
Brazil's national security force officers during a police operation in search of criminals in Mare favela, where a police officer was shot in the head on August 11, 2016 during the Rio Olympics. Felipe Dana / AP
Brazil's national security force officers during a police operation in search of criminals in Mare favela, where a police officer was shot in the head on August 11, 2016 during the Rio Olympics. Felipe Dana / AP
Brazil may be languishing in the Olympic medals table but in one field, the host nation is streets ahead. Rio 2016 is shaping up to be most dangerous games ever.

The mayor of Rio, Eduardo Paes had boasted the city would be "the safest place in the world". Yet despite the 85,000 security personnel posted around the Games, to protect the 500,000 visitors, it has proved to be business as usual for the city's crooks - except with more business and richer pickings.

There have been attacks on tourists, attacks on competitors and on the media. There have even been attacks by athletes on support staff, such as the two Moroccan boxers who were accused of attempting to rape two maids working at the Olympic Village.

No one, it seemed, was off limits - not even the Olympics security chief, Felipe Seixas, a senior national police officer, who was set upon by four knife-wielding men as he left the Maracana stadium in the early hours after the Games opening ceremony. A police officer escorting him shot dead one of the robbers, a 22-year-old career criminal with convictions for theft and drug-dealing. The other three fled.

Hours after that hugely embarrassing lapse, the Portuguese education minister Tiago Brandao Rodriguez and his assistant were mugged at knifepoint as they walked back to Ipanema after watching a cycling race. The thief took the minister's mobile phone and other valuables and fled. Luckily for Mr Rodriguez, outraged locals witnessed the attack and tackled the mugger, giving him such a beating that he ended up in hospital. "It was a fright but we're OK, " said Mr Rodriguez later, with admirable sang-froid.

Four days later, three Swedish tourists were abducted when they asked their taxi to stop on the motorway so they could take a photograph. The taxi driver alerted the police and the trio were found later, unharmed, trying to find their way back to their hotel.

A press bus taking journalists to the Olympic Park had two windows shattered by "unidentified missiles." The journalists remain convinced it was gunfire. Brazilian officials insist it was rocks.

Greek public relations official Stratos Safioleas must have thought he was safe in his hotel, next to the Olympic Park. Yet thieves managed to make off with $11,000 worth of camera and computer equipment while he was having a meal. The hotel would not show him its CCTV footage so Mr Safioleas called the police, whereupon the hotel washed its hands of him. So much for hospitality.

And so it continued. A bullet fired into a media tent at the Olympic equestrian venue narrowly missed an official from New Zealand. Australian photographer Brett Costello was robbed of $30,600 (Dh112,500) worth of gear in a Rio cafe. A woman distracted him while a man grabbed the equipment and when Mr Costello gave chase a "bystander" sent him in the wrong direction. CCTV footage subsequently showed the trio were working together, having followed the photographer from a photo shoot. Two days later, Mr Costello spotted one of the thieves wearing his jacket at an archery venue, which he had been able to enter despite having no accreditation.

The Australians have had problems in Rio from the start. Faults with the plumbing and electricity meant they were late moving into their accommodation. A few days later they had to evacuate because of a fire that no one noticed because the fire alarms were deactivated. While the athletes waited outside their quarters for the all-clear, burglars broke in and stole laptops and team shirts.

At the end of the first week, two rowing coaches were attacked at knifepoint on Ipanema beach by two teenagers who stole their credit cards, mobile phones and a team blazer. It was the last straw. Since then, the Australian athletes and officials have been confined to quarters after 6pm, and told to wear casual clothes and keep their accreditation hidden when out in public. They also have their own security guard and their own dedicated vehicle to transport them to venues.

"it's just not safe," said Greg Nance, security chief for the Australian Olympic Committee. "We're here for a sports event, the biggest of its kind in the world, not to fight people on the streets."

No nationality has escaped Rio's criminals. The Russian squad said burglars broke into their team house during the opening ceremony and stole three laptops and a camera. As Chinese hurdler Shi Dongpeng and a cameraman checked into a hotel, an apparently drunken man approached the athlete and vomited on him. While the cameraman chased the drunk away and Mr Shi cleaned himself up, someone stole all their belongings from the hotel foyer.

One of the most troubling incidents occurred last Sunday when American gold medallist swimmer Ryan Lochte and teammates Gunnar Bentz, Jack Conger and Jimmy Feigen were mugged by a gang posing as police officers. .

The swimmers, who were wearing their Olympic team gear, had left a party in a taxi, which was pulled over by men who appeared to be police officers. They told the four Americans to lie on the ground but Mr Lochte refused.

"I said, 'We didn't do anything wrong so I'm not getting down on the ground. Then the guy pulled out his gun," said Mr Lochte. "He cocked it, put it to my forehead and said, 'Get down.' I put my hands up."

However, on Wednesday, Brazilian judge Keyla Blank ordered the seizure of Mr Lochte and Mr Feigen's passports to stop them leaving the country because of doubts about their account of the mugging.Mr Lochte is reported to be back in the US while Mr Feigen's movements are unclear.

Any confidence remaining in Rio's security arrangements evaporated when a police patrol apparently took a wrong turn into the Mare favela and ended up being shot at, with one officer killed.

Even in normal times, more than 60,000 murders happen in Brazil each year, which is more than some war zones. Twenty-one of the world's 50 most dangerous cities are in Brazil. As the Games draw to a close and a party atmosphere takes over, perhaps the only thing to celebrate is the fact that it could all have been worse.

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