Special Report: Brazil’s World Cup and Olympic preparations marred by problems

Brazil-based Damian Kane has told takefootball of the problems Brazil are facing as they prepare to stage the two biggest events in the sporting world.

To say it has been a bad few weeks for the Brazilian authorities regarding their preparations for next year’s World Cup and the 2016 Olympic games is a bit of an understatement.

In the early hours of 3 March, special police forces along with Military and Navy personnel successfully occupied two more Favelas in the north of Rio de Janeiro as part of an ongoing security operation called “Pacification”.

Authorities are trying to regain control of these areas that have been left in the hands of drug dealers and establish a police presence in the communities to improve security ahead of the impending mega events. The operation was heralded as a success with no shots being fired during the occupation of the Barreira do Vasco and Caju favelas, both of which are close in proximity to the main road from the cities international airport to the city centre and the tourist hotspots of Ipanema and Copacabana.

Since then it would seem that the authorities have been lurching from one setback to another, the latest being the brutal abduction of two tourists. The couple were subjected to a six-hour ordeal after taking a local minibus in Copacabana during which they were handcuffed, beaten, robbed and the female repeatedly raped. Police have made three arrests in an attack that has shocked the city.

Since the publicity surrounding the attack, six more people have come forward after allegedly being assaulted and robbed in similar incidents. One, a 21-year-old Brazilian woman, claims to have been held and raped on 23 March after boarding the same van.

Tourist police chief Alexandre Braga has tried to reassure the public and possible visitors that this is an isolated attack, saying: “This is a crime that shames Rio but the arrests were made quickly, This case is not usual in the city.” However, this type of headline will be seen as damaging to the city as it is trying to improve its image as a safe and secure place to visit ahead of the world cup next year.

This comes just a week after serious questions are being asked over the police handling of an eviction that took place at an indigenous museum situated next to the nearly completed Maracana Stadium that will host the final of the World Cup next year and the opening and closing ceremonies of the Olympics two years later.

The museum that has been at the centre of a long drawn out legal battle is to be flattened as part of the refurbishments to the stadium to make way for a parking area and commercial centre. The museum closed in 1977, however Indian families had lived inside the complex for around 10 years in homes they had built on the site. As police in riot gear entered the complex to forcefully remove the occupants scenes turned ugly and the police resorted to the use of tear gas, pepper spray and rubber bullets to push back crowds of protesters who had gathered in support of the families.

Rio governor Sergio Cabral stated in a news conference in October that the demolition was being demanded by FIFA and the world cup organizing committee. However, a letter from FIFA’s office in Brazil to the federal public defender’s office, published in January by the newspaper Jornal do Brazil, said that the football authority “never requested the demolition of the old Indian Museum in Rio de Janeiro.”

If these clashes were not enough, similar scenes were also on display as police clashed with football fans in the state of Bahia. Fans had queued overnight to buy tickets for the Inaugural game at the newly completed Arena Fonte Nova in Salvador, due to host a number of games during the World Cup. Chaos erupted as the gates were opened with fights breaking out between fans desperate to get their hands on the much sought after tickets [pictured].

Questions about the organisation have been raised with reports that there was no segregation for queues which added to the tension and police again resorted to heavy handed tactics to subdue the crowds and used tear gas as well smoke grenades as they battled to gain control of the situation. No arrests were made and the stadium owners have made promises to resolve the problems that led to the ugly scenes.

As well as these security issues, Rio’s Olympic organizers have been hit with another blow with the news that the recently built João Havelange stadium, known locally as the Engenhao, that is to be used for the track and field events at the games is to be closed indefinitely over safety concerns about the stadium roof. Engineers have discovered structural problems with the roof that could pose dangers to spectators in certain wind and temperature conditions. Rio mayor Eduardo Paes said on Wednesday that the stadium will not be reopened until a solution is found: “If it takes a month, then it will stay closed for a month; if it takes a year, it will stay closed for a year.”

Rio is due to host the FIFA confederations cup starting in June this year and the 46,000 capacity Engenhao had been earmarked to step in should the renovations that have been dogged by delays at the Maracana, due to be completed at the end of April, not be completed on time. The International Olympic Committee said it remained confident about Rio’s preparations despite the temporary closure of the stadium.”There are still more than three and a half years to go before the Games and we are absolutely confident that they will deliver,” the IOC spokesman Mark Adams told the Associated Press.

Organizers will be hoping that good news is not so far away with construction at the Maracana stadium due to be completed in time for a training event due to take place on 27 April with the Inaugural game due to take place on 2 June as Brazil host England before the Confederations Cup starts in mid June, which is seen as a warm up exercise for the World Cup.

Damian is a freelance journalist currently based in Brazil. You can find his news and views relating to the 2014 World Cup Finals at http://worldcupwatch2014.wordpress.com/. You can also follow him on Twitter:  https://twitter.com/DamianKane79

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