Brazil’s Sports Minister Aldo Rebelo said on Tuesday that the country would focus efforts on tackling common crime, as opposed to larger-scale terror attacks during this year’s FIFA World Cup, which Brazil is hosting along with the Summer Olympics in 2016.
Rebelo admitted that Brazil knew less serious crime would be a possible issue for the country when it took on the responsibility of hosting the sporting mega-events:
“We [the Brazilian government] knew that we would have to live with being exposed to this risk. Not to the risk of terror attacks of a political of religious nature, which occur throughout the world,” he said, citing the Munich Massacre in which eleven Israeli players were murdered at the 1972 edition of the tournament in Germany.
The sports minister said Brazil was instead at risk of “social violence, common crime, which can be found in Brazil’s largest cities”.
Rebelo added that all football squads would receive support in terms of security, and that “additional preventative measures” would be taken to protect delegations, Brazil’s Agência Brasil news agency reported.
The comments were made as officials met in São Paulo to thrash out operational plans for the city’s hosting of the World Cup.
Officials have been quick to play down concerns of security, particularly in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro where many crimes are on the increase.
In São Paulo, the notorious PCC (First Command of the Capital) criminal gang last year said it would unleash a wave of attacks, directed against police officers, during the World Cup if its members were moved to harsher maximum security prisons – known for their severe overcrowding.
The PCC, which operates from inside Brazil’s prison system, was responsible for a wave of attacks and counterattacks on police in recent years.
At the time, Rebelo said he did not believe that the PCC would disrupt the games or target tourists.
In Rio de Janeiro, a programme of so-called “pacification” has had some success in driving violent drug- and arms-trafficking gangs from slum areas, known as favelas.
Police forces implementing the policy – which has now installed some 36 police stations, known as UPPs, in favela communities – started with favelas close to areas frequented by tourists or located near venues of upcoming sporting events.
The policy was broadly praised, although criminals ended up being flushed from slum to slum, and some pacified areas have reportedly silently fallen back into the control of gangs.
And even where pacification has been largely successful, crime is still common, particularly given the fact that the areas often border more upmarket neighbourhoods, especially in the city’s Zona Sul region.
Crime experts in Brazil say that tourists are very rarely the victims of the worst types of crime, such as murders, and are far more likely to fall foul of pickpockets and muggers.
They underline that more often it is the poorer members of the community that bear the brunt of serious violence. Police have been widely criticised for the number of deaths of innocent residents during operations in favelas.
Police and security officials acknowledge the shortcomings of the pacification policy and certain police operations, but argue they are training police as fast as possible with the resources available.
Sports Minister Aldo Rebelo today admitted that there would inevitably be issues involving some tourists, and that it was a risk Brazil always knew it had to take.
However, in the run-up to last year’s World Cup prélude, the Confederations Cup, concern was expressed not with regard to the level of petty crime in host cities, but because of the wave of mass anti-government protests, which spread across the country taking Brazil’s authorities by surprise.
It culminated in high riot police presence in many of the host cities and tense standoffs with protesters, of which a small minority engaged in criminal activity, such as violence and vandalism.
Given the Confederations Cup was just a small-scale version of what awaits Brazil this June for the World Cup, Brazil is keen not to see similar scene in 2014. Indeed both President Dilma Rousseff and FIFA have repeatedly said that there will be no repeat of the violence seen in 2013 this year.
Edited version of article written for Anadolu Agency