'Stray' bullet at Rio could have been far worse

8:35 am on 8 August 2016

Opinion - Everyone was already touchy about security at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics, even before a stray bullet was fired into the equestrian media centre.

Brazilian security forces stand guard outside the Maracana stadium in Rio de Janeiro, ahead of the opening ceremony.

Brazilian security forces stand guard outside the Maracana stadium in Rio de Janeiro, ahead of the opening ceremony. Photo: AFP

To quote Rio police authorities: "The bullet entered the work conference room" through a plastic roof and fell to the ground.

New Zealand team chef de mission Rob Waddell said the bullet entered between the door and the ceiling, about 4-5m above a team press official. She was evidently taken into a nearby concrete room while things settled down.

The bullet has been described as "unintentionally discharged", though no-one has yet confirmed who fired it or where it came from, so quite how it has been determined that it was a stray is unclear.

NZOC chef de mission Rob Waddell.

NZOC chef de mission Rob Waddell. Photo: Photosport

The equestrian centre is next to a military complex, and it has been suggested the bullet was inadvertently fired there, which is logical but hardly comforting.

There is such an increased level of terrorism and vigilance in the world now that all these incidents provoke intense reactions.

Some journalists were laughing at the way the bullet was described as "entering" the room, wondering how it beat the security metal detectors at the entrance and whether it was a rights holding or non-rights holding bullet.

But behind the joking there was concern.

During the men's cycling road race a controlled detonation took place near the course. It was small bag that was exploded. It might normally have been picked up and put in a rubbish bin, but no-one's taking any chances.

In Rio there is a massive police presence. The Brazilians have deployed 85,000 police, military and other security personnel, more than double the number required at the London Olympics four years ago.

Our hotel, a few hundred metres from the famous Copacabana Beach, has at least one and often two police cars stationed outside permanently. There are heavily armed police seemingly in every street.

It is a strange atmosphere because while the police make their presence felt, the games, and life in general, carries on around them.

Copacabana Beach is a colourful, festive place where people sunbathe, play volleyball and generally relax, while being protected from who knows what by armed officers.

The Olympics are such a big event that for decades various groups and individuals have sought to use them to gain publicity about causes important to them, often with violent consequences.

German chancellor Adolf Hitler gives the Nazi salute during the opening ceremony of the Berlin Olympics 1 August 1936.

German chancellor Adolf Hitler gives the Nazi salute during the opening ceremony of the Berlin Olympics 1 August 1936. Photo: AFP

Hitler wanted to use the 1936 Berlin Olympics to promote Ayran supremacy. In 1968 Mexican students protested about the country's authoritarian government. The protests culminated in the Tlatelolco Massacre on the eve of the Mexico City Olympics, up to 3000 protesters were injured and 300 killed, many by snipers.

In 1972, a group of Black September Palestinian terrorists kidnapped 11 members of the Israeli team (competitors and officials), who were all killed.

In 1996, two people died (one of a heart attack) and 111 were injured when Eric Rudolph exploded a bomb in Atlanta's Centennial Park, the centre of the Olympics in the downtown area of the city. Rudolph was upset at his government's stand on abortion and wanted to force the cancellation of the Olympics.

Using the Olympics to make a stand is nothing new.

The Africans did it when they boycotted in 1976 because the All Blacks were touring apartheid South Africa, and American President Jimmy Carter did it four years later when he boycotted the Moscow Olympics over the Russian invasion of Afghanistan.

There was a large, noisy but relatively good-natured "democracy rally" in Rio on the day of the opening ceremony, with demonstrators protesting about the impeachment of president Dilemma Youssef.

The problem is that in today's world, protests often are not good-natured, but tremendously violent.

That is the curse the Olympics now has to live with and it doesn't really matter if they are held in Sydney, Beijing, London or Rio.

And it's why the bullet that turned up unexpectedly at the equestrian centre in Rio might so easily have been something far worse than just a stray fired accidentally by a sloppy military trainee.

*Joseph Romanos is a long-time sports journalist. Rio will be the ninth Olympic Games he has covered. He is there as part of the New Zealand Olympic Committee website team.

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