Violent crime a serious concern for organizers of World Cup, 2016 Olympics in Brazil

Martin Rogers
Yahoo! Sports

Brazilian government officials fear a drastic drop in visitor numbers for the World Cup and Olympic Games following the gang rape of an American tourist in Rio de Janeiro last weekend.

The South American country's high crime rate was brought into sharp focus when the woman and a male companion were subjected to a brutal six-hour attack allegedly carried by operators of a private transport service.

With soccer's showpiece, the FIFA World Cup, starting in Brazil in 14 months and the Rio Olympics set for 2016, members of the government and organizing committee realize swift action is needed to prevent potential visitors from being "scared away."

A source connected to the World Cup organizing committee told Yahoo! Sports that an aggressive plan is being urgently implemented as a direct response to the bus attack.

"There are three parts," said the source. "Obviously the first is to take firm action against the perpetrators of this crime and any similar crimes. The law enforcement officials have had some success in controlling crime, specifically in relation to drugs, but there is clearly still work to be done in many areas.

"Secondly, it is necessary for there to be an appropriate deterrent; for criminal elements both in the city of Rio de Janeiro and elsewhere to know that illegal activities now carry a far greater risk of apprehension and punishment.

"Finally, it is agreed that there is a need for the world to see that action is being taken and that making the city and country safe for tourists is an overwhelming priority ahead of these huge international events."

There were security concerns ahead of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, but despite a handful of incidents, the event largely passed without serious drama and was considered a significant success.

However, the graphic nature of the ordeal suffered by the pair of tourists last weekend has sent shockwaves around the world and it has been likened to the horrific December gang rape in the Indian capital of New Delhi. Female tourists traveling to India have dropped by more than a third since.

Over the weekend, the man and woman hailed a van – effectively a multi-person taxi – in the famous Copacabana beach area that has been described as "Brazil's Disneyland." Soon after the journey commenced, the van operators forced other passengers from the vehicle, before taking turns raping the woman and beating her handcuffed French boyfriend with a metal bar.

The woman was forced to hand over credit cards (which the three assailants used for a spending spree), before the victims were eventually dumped along the roadside 30 miles from the city, from where they were able to summon help and alerted police.

Authorities named the men charged with the crime on Tuesday as Wallace Aparecido Souza Silva, Carlos Armando Costa dos Santos and Jonathan Foudakis de Souza and will seek lengthy prison sentences for each.

Yet already the operation is showing welcome signs of cooperation between Brazil's often convoluted political and administrative departments and the combined anti-crime/public relations campaign ahead of the World Cup and Olympics.

Among the resources expected to be used are the government department for violence against women, drug fighting agencies, the national tourism board, as well as the regular police force and certain anti-poverty charities.

FIFA has been vigilant on the subject of safety in Brazil and knows that the issue could make or break whether the tournament is considered a success.

Following reports that security forces pulled guns and beat players at the final of the Copa Sudamericana in Brazil late last year, FIFA president Sepp Blatter insisted organizers should regard the matter as "a warning."

"But security is not a matter of the sports organization but of the authorities, be it the police or the army," Blatter added. "We can provide guidelines but finally it is up to the authorities."

However, the Brazilian organizing committees are taking no such chances and the heavy government involvement in both the World Cup and Olympics may allow the event organizers to make extra demands regarding policing.

"There seems to be a tighter link between certainly the World Cup organizing committee and the government than for past tournaments, and I imagine it will be similar for the Olympics," a source told Yahoo! Sports. "If that allows positive steps to be made that will improve safety, and, importantly, confidence in safety, that could be a positive."

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