SYDNEY: Australian Olympic chiefs on Tuesday demanded Rio Games organizers immediately improve security after a decorated Paralympian and her physiotherapist were robbed at gunpoint, underlining a crime wave sweeping the city.
Sunday’s incident comes after an escalation of thefts and robberies in the Brazilian host city ahead of the Olympics which open on August 5, with sportspeople among the victims.
The Australian Paralympic Committee said sailor and wheelchair basketball player Liesl Tesch and team official Sarah Ross were riding their bikes in broad daylight in a park on Sunday.
They were confronted by two men, one of them carrying a pistol, who demanded money before shoving them off the bikes and riding off on them.
Kate McLoughlin, chef de mission of the Australian Paralympic team, said the pair, in Rio to train at the Paralympic sailing venue, were “understandably shaken but unhurt”.
The incident came just days after a Brazilian competitive shooter, who just missed out on a spot on the Olympic team, was shot in the head during an attempted robbery in Rio.
It also followed the armed mugging of members of the Spanish sailing team in the city last month.
Australian Olympic Committee chef de mission Kitty Chiller called on Games organisers to mobilise security forces immediately rather than wait until nearer the event’s official opening.
“The Rio organisers need to introduce the extra security precautions as soon as possible before an athlete gets hurt. We have written to them today asking them to address this issue,” Chiller said.
“This is not an isolated incident, athletes have been mugged while training or competing in Rio test events and we want our athletes protected.
“This is a major concern and the only answer is for the authorities to put extra police and security on the ground now.”
‘Pretty scary place’
According to the AOC, the Rio Organizing Committee has vowed to mobilise 100,000 police, military and other personnel in time for the Olympics with the force remaining in place for the Paralympics which begin on September 7.
“We have briefed our athletes leading into the Games,” added Chiller.
“Basically we are saying that if you are confronted by criminals, comply, hand over your belongings and don’t argue. That is exactly what the two Paralympians did on Sunday.”
Chiller’s comments could prove contentious in Rio, where officials were upset in February when the AOC imposed a ban on Australian athletes going into the city’s favelas, or urban slums, over security fears.
It prompted Rio mayor Eduardo Paes to reportedly claim “the Australian committee has been a source of aggressions to Brazil”.
Tensions also flared in April 2014, when AOC president John Coates called Rio’s preparations the worst he had experienced.
Tesch, a six-time Paralympian who won sailing gold at London 2012 and also has silver and bronze medals in basketball, said Rio was “a pretty scary place to be”.
Tesch, who is still able to cycle despite a mountain bike accident when she was 19 that left her partly paraplegic, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that several people saw the incident, but no one helped.
“I think he said ‘dinheiro’… which means money, so I lifted up my shirt and said: ‘Look I don’t have any money’,” she told the broadcaster.
“He then said something else and pointed the gun at me and pushed me in the shoulder and I just toppled over with my bicycle and he just grabbed my bicycle, and the other guy was wrestling the bicycle from our team physio.
“And they just rode off into the park. It was absolutely horrific.”