FIFA, the world soccer governing body, feels that the ongoing violence in Rio de Janeiro is not a threat to the World Cup this summer. Deadly violence broke out in Rio earlier this week in a slum district or favela very close to the popular Copacabana Beach. The violence has added to the worldwide concern for the safety of visitors to Brazil for the month-long soccer tournament.
The latest violence erupted after a male dancer was found dead. Friends and family of the dancer accused police of shooting him. During protest that followed the death, a 27-year old man was shot and killed. It is just another chapter in the violence that has been plaguing Rio. For months police in Rio have been cracking down on the slum areas, attempting to clean up the high crime areas in anticipation close to 600,000 visitors that are expected to be visiting Brazil for the soccer games and festivities.
The pacification program Rio police are using has been in practice since 2008. The program was developed after Brazil was awarded both the World Cup and the next Summer Olympics in 2016. The idea was for police and military to force out the gang influences in the favelas and set up a permanent police presence and community resource center for the residents. That idea was intended to help keep the areas safe for people living there and visiting tourists. Residents of the slum areas have reported that police are treating everyone as criminals, even after gangs have moved out. Some of the areas that the police and military have chased gang elements out of have seen the gangs move back in with greater numbers and more violence.
While FIFA fees that there is not a credible threat to the World Cup or festivities from the violence in and around the favelas in Rio, city leaders are very concerned that the games will become a target. Rio de Janeiro is set to host seven matches including the championship game and host a free FIFA World Cup Fan Fests. The fan fests are a huge, free party for fans without tickets. The fan fest offer these ticket-less fans a place to go watch the games and have fun with various soccer related activities. City leaders are concerned that these free venues will draw out more protests and violence.
A total of twelve cities in Brazil are hosting matches during the World Cup, and each city is going to have the free fan fests according to FIFA. FIFA Secretary General Jerome Valcke is saddened by the violence going on in Brazil, but feels it will not affect any part of the tournament. Recife, one of the cities hosting games, stated earlier in the year that the city does not have the money to run the free fan fest. FIFA is determined that all of the cities that are hosting game will be offering free admission to the safe and secure fan fest to watch the games, including Recife.
With six weeks to go before the World Cup, the violence in Rio may not end up being a threat to the tournament, just as FIFA feels. However, with the concerns coming from Rio that the violence and protests will escalate when the tourists show up for the games and festivities, people visiting the country during the tournament should take extra precautions to be safe. Maybe the beautiful game of soccer will unite the gangs, residents, and visitors in Brazil and the world will see a month of soccer without violence.
Commentary by Carl Auer