Rio Olympics policing on grander scale

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Rio was the second studio album released by my fave ’80s band Duran Duran, but Rio the city was chosen ahead of Madrid, Tokyo and Chicago to host the Games of the XXXI Olympiad.
Rio de Janeiro was the first South American city to host the summer Olympics, and the games were the first to be held in a Portuguese-speaking county, and were the first held during the host country’s winter.
A total of 11,000 athletes from 207 countries attended, including New Zealand’s largest ever team of 199 competitors, and the hosting of 28 sports at 38 venues made for policing on a somewhat grander scale than event management at Forsyth Bar Stadium!
While the organisers’ theme of ‘‘Green Games for a Blue Planet’’ focused on sustainability and the environment, it didn’t hide the underbelly of Brazil.
Brazil’s high rate of violent crime, the Zika virus, pollution in Guanabara Bay, the Russian doping scandal, Brazil’s economic recession and threats of terrorism were set against a volatile political backdrop of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff’s impeachment, which meant plenty of stress for Dunedin-based area commander Inspector Jason Guthrie, who was in Rio fulfilling liaison and advisory roles for both the Olympics and Paralympics.
On the ‘‘flag waving’’ side, four Dunedin coppers travelled to Rio to support family Olympians.
Constable Shelley Phair and Sergeant Dion Phair took their Dunedin winter bodies to Copacabana Beach, supporting Shelly’s younger brother Tony Dodds to 21st place in the triathlon.
Detective Senior Sergeant Malcolm Inglis witnessed firsthand the heartbreak of Olympic sport — consoling his son Hugo Inglis who scored early on in the hockey quarterfinal against Germany, only for his team to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, conceding two goals in the last 41 seconds.
Constable Gwen Brazier was the only one to get her teeth into a medal when she watched her daughter Kelly Brazier win silver in the women’s rugby sevens.
Police in Dunedin will get to see the medals’ laurel leaf design as 26-year-old police file management centre administrator Jessica Hamill won bronze as part of the 31-strong Kiwi team at the Paralympics.
A member of Athletics Taieri, and previously a Beijing Paralympian, Jess lived up to her world ranking of three in her shot put category.*
Insp Guthrie said from a policing perspective both sets of games would have to be considered a real success in terms of security, and he credited local security forces and partners for pulling off a major operation very professionally.
* F34 shot put (F = field; 31-38 represents impairments affecting the ability to control legs, trunk and hands, with the lower the number the more significant the activity limitation.)
Q What’s your job description in Rio?
A: I’m involved in liaison and advice, mostly with NZOC, Mfat and the local law enforcement agencies — an important piece of the puzzle to help get the big security machine together as far as it relates to the security of our NZ citizens.
QWhere and who are you hanging out with around the water cooler?
A: I work at the Joint Operating Centre with regular visits to the International Police Cooperation Centre. I work closely alongside others in similar roles from our traditional partners of Australia, Great Britain and Canada as well as Ireland and the United States.
Q How’s the local understanding of the Kiwi lingo?
A: I know only the most basic Portuguese greetings but Brazilians in general and Cariocas (Rio locals) in particular are wonderfully warm, friendly people who go out of their way to try and make you feel welcome and communicate with you in English.
QFrom TV coverage the Brazilian policing scene seems quite complicated.
A: Yep, multiple jurisdictions and levels of police, including a federal police — very complicated and confusing. NZ is very lucky to have one national police force.
QGiven all the potential issues Brazil has, were there security concerns leading into the Games?
A: There definitely were significant concerns in the lead-up, primarily around the levels of violent crime. Thankfully, significant violent crime involving weapons against visitors was actually not common during the Games, and this is again down to the great work of the local authorities. Having said that, theft and street robbery were rampant, particularly around Copacabana Beach.
QWhat differences in crime should a naive Dunedin tourist in Rio note?
A: There are significant differences and despite Brazil/Rio being an incredible and beautiful place, it certainly helps to reinforce that we live in the best place in the world.
To give some context — there were around 54,000 homicides in Brazil last year. In April this year there were around 470 homicides in Rio alone — the population of Rio is around six million. Compare that with NZ’s 60-80 homicides in an entire year and you get the picture. It’s an extremely violent place and while NZ certainly has issues with violence they pale in comparison to Rio. Motorcycle ‘‘snatches’’, express kidnappings, favelas. . .all make for an interesting place.
QFor you personally what was working at the Olympics like?
A: The Olympics was an incredible experience on a personal level to be part of, the pinnacle of sporting endeavour with so many amazing young (and not so young) athletes giving it 100%.
QHighlights and experiences?
A: Being at some of the venues while our athletes competed, in particular seeing Lisa Carrington win gold and being present when she received her medal. I’m pretty sure I got some dust in my eyes as the anthem played — very proud to be a Kiwi! I’m also now part of the half of New Zealand that has a photo with Richie McCaw — a very gracious and patient chap!
On the ‘‘experience’’ side, scouting the area around the equestrian venue after a bullet went through the roof and finding ourselves inadvertently entering the fringes of a favela was more on the hair-raising scale. [Favelas are dangerous Brazilian urban slums associated with extreme poverty and often ruled by druglords.]
QHow are the Paralympics in comparison?
A: The Paralympics is smaller scale but exactly the same in terms of athletic endeavour and commitment. Already I’ve been privileged to hear some staggering backstories of athletes and it is shaping up to be a pretty inspirational event to be part of.
QCasting aside the uniform and donning the board shorts and jandals, have you fitted any touristy stuff in?
A: Sugarloaf Mountain was a highlight. This is essentially two very large rocks in the harbour joined by a cable car that was featured in a James Bond movie (Moonraker, 1979) — a stunning viewing platform for wider Rio. I’m yet to visit Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer) but hope to before I go.