Ryan Lochte robbed at gunpoint: Is Rio crime living up to the hype?

The months leading up to the Olympic games in Rio were marked by safety concerns and predictions of heavy crime. But while there have been several high-profile incidents, much of the hype has died down. 

Carlos Barria/Reuters
Soldiers close off the street in front of the Beach Volleyball Stadium as they investigate a suspicious backpack, near Copacabana Beach, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil August 5, 2016.

In the months, weeks, and days leading up to the Olympics opening ceremony, crime in Rio de Janeiro fueled concerns that the city was not prepared to host the Games: Budget cuts meant delays in police salaries, leading to protests and warnings that there would not be adequate security at the games. 

"Welcome to Hell," read one sign at a protest by officers in June. "Police and firefighters don’t get paid; Whoever comes to Rio de Janeiro will not be safe."

But a month and a half later, the Games have commenced. And while there have been several high-profile incidents, the wave of panic over potential danger has largely subsided. 

Without proper security measures, the Olympics, held in a city characterized by both its wealth and tourism and its poverty and crime, could be a "big failure," worried Rio's acting governor Francisco Dornelles. Much of the challenges that officials have had to grapple with in hosting the Olympics can be attributed to recent financial difficulties. 

As The Christian Science Monitor's Roya Sabri reported

Brazil is feeling the worst recession in over two decades, largely because of the drop in prices of Brazil’s major commodities: oil, sugar, and coffee. Last year, the economy shrank by 3.8 percent, the biggest annual drop since 1990.

Some have turned to violent crime as the country’s unemployment rate continues to climb. Last month it reached 11.2 percent, according to the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics. 

There have, of course, been a number of reports of crime and violence since athletes and spectators began arriving. Last week, two Australian rowing coaches were robbed at knifepoint. A stray bullet struck a media tent at the Olympic Equestrian Center, and a bus full of journalists was hit with what officials claimed were rocks but some passengers said was gunfire. 

The chief of security was mugged at knifepoint on the night of the opening ceremony, and an Olympic security officer was killed by gunfire when his car made a wrong turn. 

Athletes haven't been immune, either. Most recently, American swimmer Ryan Lochte and three teammates were held up at gunpoint early Sunday morning by men posing as police officers. 

Some say, however, that the reality has not been as bad as the media – which published headlines such as "Why Rio Olympics is on course to be the most crime-ridden games" – has predicted. 

"Yes, crime occurs in Rio," writes Teddy Greenstein, a journalist for the Chicago Tribune reporting from Rio. "This is a city of 6.3 million where, sadly, high unemployment and extreme poverty exist.... But enough with the click-baiting stories that paint this place as some kind of urban apocalypse."

Others have also called for the media to pay less attention to the problems in Rio, such as high crime rates or poor water quality, arguing that it does more good to draw attention to the positive aspects of the games. 

"Why do we insist on indulging this negativity when there is so much potential for a culture of optimism and positivity in and around the Games?" writes American Olympic rower Megan Kalmoe on her blog in the weeks leading up to the Games. "As a culture we have a really simple choice when it comes to how we want to frame the conversation around Rio 2016, and at every turn it seems we are choosing to be jerks." 

But Rio, at least, is not alone: While the city may have received more negative press than usual, nearly all Olympic host cities are criticized leading up to the Games, whether for crime rates, financial difficulties, construction, or lodgings, noted Christine Brennan, a USA Today sports columnist and TV commentator, to The Washington Post. 

"It’s the nature of the beast," she said. "It will always be something."

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