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2016 Postmortem: The Violence In Rio

By Marcus Gilmer in News on Oct 22, 2009 6:00PM

We're three weeks removed from the awarding of the 2016 Summer Olympics to Rio over Tokyo, Madrid, and, yes, Chicago. But in the weeks since the announcement, while we in Chicago have been focused on figuring out what went wrong, Rio has been dealing with another problem: a continued string of high-profile violence. Last weekend, a police helicopter was shot down in a gun battle between police and gangs. Already dealing with one of the highest murder rates in the world, 29 people have been killed since this past weekend. Brazil's President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva said, “I need to clean the filth that drug traffickers impose on Brazil," and Sérgio Cabral, Rio’s governor, added, “We want to get to 2016 with a Rio de Janeiro in peace before, during and after the Games."

Leading into the October 2nd vote, one of the more visceral images of violence for the candidate cities was video of the South Side brawl that left Chicago teenager Derrion Albert dead. In the wake of the vote, that image has been replaced by those above from the firefights in Rio between police and gangs. Will this recent outbreak of violence have any effect on the Olympics? Rodrigo Pimentel, a former police captain in the special operations unit of Rio’s Military Police, told the NY Times, “Let’s be honest. One more helicopter that falls down in Rio de Janeiro or another slum invasion could seriously raise the chances of the Olympics and World Cup pulling out of Brazil.” Does this mean Chicago could be back in the running for 2016? It's extremely doubtful. Given the fanfare that was made over Rio being the first South American city to be awarded the Olympics, re-awarding the bid would be as embarrassing for the IOC as for Rio.

And time is on Rio's side: there are seven years left until the Olympics and other Olympics cities have experienced violent outbursts. The 2005 terrorist bombings in London came just one day after that city was awarded the 2012 games. With the re-commitment from Rio and Brazil's leaders, it could lead to a shift in focus on the city's build-up to the Games with a primary focus on security and, in a best case scenario, leaving the city with a legacy of lower crime and better safety. But a worst case scenario - a continued escalation of crime - could leave government and IOC officials sweating as the Games approach.