RIO DE JANEIRO, 13 JUNE: Not even a day after his arrival in Rio de Janeiro and just hours after attending the Brazil-England soccer friendly at the city’s legendary Maracana stadium, a sports columnist for the Daily Mail newspaper was held up at knifepoint as he strolled along Copacabana Beach.
Adrian Durham darted into oncoming traffic to get away, and in the end the would-be mugger didn’t make off with anything. But the June 2 incident, which Durham described in a recent column, has served as a warning for the tens of thousands of foreign visitors expected to flood into Brazil for this week’s Confederations Cup soccer tournament. It’s only the first of a series of high-profile events Rio’s is gearing up to host, among them a papal visit in July, next year’s World Cup and the 2016 Olympics. Security has long been a major problem in Brazil, where heavily armed drug lords control swaths of territory that are off-limits to law enforcement and where petty crime often turns fatal. As part of its Olympic bid, Brazil’s government pledged to curb the violence, and major strides have been made in recent years, particularly in Rio, where the police are now present in more than 200 hillside "favela" slums. But the country still has an alarmingly high murder rate, and knife and gun-point muggings, carjackings and armed robberies continue to be facts of daily life. Rio alone has seen a spate of recent incidents, including the March gang rape of an American student aboard a public transit van and the shooting last Saturday of a Brazilian engineer who, because of faulty signs, took a wrong turn and drove into an unpacified favela.
Brazilian officials have brought in drones, thermal cameras and thousands of troops to patrol the six stadiums hosting Confederations Cup events. But experts say visitors like Durham will be immediately vulnerable once they venture away from secured areas, and in fact, may run even a greater risk than usual, with many police having been called off their regular street duties to patrol the stadiums’ environs.
"Street lighting and police presence need to be stepped up dramatically before the World Cup — and then the Olympics — come here," Durham wrote in his column. "Attitudes need to change — locals clearly just accept that crime happens and have no desire to tackle it."