When I was little, we found a man. He looked like – like, butchered. The old woman in the village crossed themselves… and whispered crazy things, strange things. “El Diablo cazador de hombres.” Only in the hottest years this happens. And this year, it grows hot. We begin finding our men. We found them sometimes without their skins… and sometimes much, much worse. “El cazador trofeo de los hombres” means the demon who makes trophies of men.
This line from one of Hollywood’s true classics is as silly now as it was when we first heard it in 1987, but somehow, it seems to describe the decaying situation in all of Brazil, but especially Rio. With thousands of athletes on the ground training in the hot, stinky city, reports are beginning to come in showing crime, corruption, construction, and political chaos pushing towards a furious crescendo.
Nationally, President Dilma Roussef came out of hiding the other day giving her first big international interview to Glenn Greenwald, and she shows no sign of ending the political civil war that’s led to millions of protestors in the street every few weeks, and a completely uncertain political future for the nation.
Closer to the Olympics, training for got a lot more hazardous recently. One Spanish gold medal team was allegedly held up at gunpoint last week and robbed clean of gear, money, and papers last week by a band of banditos close to Olympic Sailing HQ at Marina De Gloria. Their coach spent most of a day driving around with local police trying to find the thieves.
Also last week, a gunfight broke out in the Favela just above the grounds of the Rio Yacht Club in Niteroi; the training base for several national teams and Torben Grael’s home club. The members and athletes seemed to think it was fireworks at first – until they saw the boat workers running for cover. According to the article in Veja, authorities would have covered it up (as usual) were it not for the athletes witnessing the gunfight – including a bullet grazing the wall of the club. Until this event, the Danish and other teams’ request for more police security near the team bases were ignored. Now, many of these teams just don’t walk anywhere – a taxi takes them even when they need to go a half a mile.
Yet while the crime and political/economic uncertainty are ever-present, they’re still something of a lottery; if you use your head and follow some basic rules, visitors to Brazil can minimize most risks (and if inflation continues to skyrocket, you might actually get some incredible deals down there). But there’s one risk that no sailor can really get away from – the water. And as the rain starts to fall, it’s getting as bad as it ever has been.
On Tuesday, a new hue graced the bay – iridescent green, the color of anti-freeze, with a smell of ‘burning chemicals and decomposition.” (see pic below). One crew saw a huge sea turtle upside-down on the foamy green surface of the bay. She was unsure whether it was the plastic entangling its face or the poisoned waters that killed it.
And then there is the pic that headlined this piece, shot on Friday smack in the middle of the Medal Race Course. Well, we don’t know where the dog was shot – or even if it was a gun that did him in – but the photo was definitely shot there. If we didn’t laugh, we’d cry, and aside from the poor bastards who have to compete there, our condolences go out to the proud Brazilians, their humiliation and shame on display to the entire planet – for three more months.
Brazil’s current crises – and yes, that’s plural – are likely to continue to worsen just as the world’s eyes are all turned Southward, with the once-burgeoning economy getting pulled back into the morass that’s defined so much of Central and South American politics and government for the better part of the past century. Even if economic chaos is fairly common to much of Latin America, the confluence of factors hitting Brazil right now is something far worse. The worst James Bond villain could never pull it all off; pollution, corruption, impeachment, Zika, a crime wave, and oil prices all crushing the country at the same time? No way.
Were this the Winter Olympics, we’d end up shrugging our shoulders and saying, “oh, well, another fucked country,” and maybe sparing a few thoughts for its inhabitants, but this time, it’s different: These are OUR friends and our families and OUR crews and our skippers in harm’s way, and the more they know you’re behind them, the more likely they are to stay safe. We don’t know how it is that the IOC and ISAF are immune to worldwide pressure to actually behave responsibly, but if you care about your athletes, please continue to push via social media on those organizations, the media, and the Olympic sponsors.