After two members of the Australian Paralympic sailing squad including a gold medalist were robbed at gunpoint in Rio de Janeiro, Australia’s Olympic team leader is urging Brazilian authorities to implement Olympic-scale security now “before an athlete gets hurt.”
Two men allegedly robbed sailor Liesl Tesch, who won gold at the 2012 Summer Paralympics in London, and team official Sarah Ross on Sunday, according to a statement from Australian Sailing. The two men, one carrying a pistol, allegedly snatched the women’s bicycles in Rio Park.
An estimated 85,000 police and soldiers are set to patrol the streets during the Olympics and Paralympics, but violent crime remains a fact of life in Rio.
“Maybe the organizing committee should mobilize their games-time defense force early,” Kitty Chiller, Australia’s Olympic team leader, said Tuesday. “Do it now.”
Chiller said she’d written to the head of the Rio organizing committee and to the city’s mayor, Eduardo Paes, to express concerns.
“We’re demanding that the level of those (security) forces be reviewed, and also that they be mobilized earlier.”
The weekend incident “was extremely concerning and disturbing,” Chiller said. “It’s not an isolated incident.
Tesch raced at the Paralympic sailing venue Monday, and was quoted as saying of the robbery: “We are both shaken, but physically we’re both OK.”
Brazilian police are investigating.
Security is near the top of a long list of problems plaguing Rio ahead of the Olympics, including the Zika virus, water pollution, slow ticket sales and budget cuts.
“This is not an isolated incident, athletes have been mugged while training or competing in Rio test events and we want our athletes protected,” Chiller said. “We have briefed our athletes leading into the Games. Basically we are saying that if you are confronted by criminals, comply, handover your belongings and don’t argue. That is exactly what the two Paralympians did on Sunday.”
She said the Paralympic sailors were confronted by men at 7:30 a.m. near their accommodation.
“There were people around but no-one came to their assistance. This is a major concern and the only answer is for the authorities to put extra police and security on the ground now,” Chiller said. “We are taking over 400 young athletes to the games, we need to ensure they are protected at all costs.”
Australian team leaders have already barred athletes and officials from visiting shantytowns and slums in Rio, and are considering team curfews and other no-go zones.
“The local mayor was very upset with me when we announced that the favelas were off limits to members of our team,” Chiller said. “This was not a slur on his city, which is a beautiful and vibrant city. It is a simple security precaution.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.