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How Bad Are Things In Rio? Ask The New Zealand Athlete Who Was Just Kidnapped

“2016 has been a very bad year”

Soldiers guarding the Olympic Village (Getty Images)

The level of disrepair leading up to this year’s Olympic Games in Rio has evolved into something that borders on the darkest comedy. When New Zealand sportsman Jason Lee was kidnapped by men wearing police uniforms Sunday, he tweeted it glibly, like he’d just slipped on a banana peel.


Womp womp. In the leadup to next month’s games, local officials had hoped (as does every Olympic host city) they would receive a huge boost in tourist cred. Instead, the Games have served to shine a harsh spotlight on a location with immense social, political, health (see: zika) and environmental issues. Everyone is watching Brazil, but for all the wrong reasons.

In Lee’s description in the New Zealand Herald, he was confronted by men in uniform, who threatened to arrest him if he didn’t go with them to a couple of ATMs and withdraw bribes. Whether they were actual law officers is unclear, but Lee seems understandably shaken.

"I'm not sure what's more depressing, the fact this stuff is happening to foreigners so close to the Olympic Games,” the Jiu Jitsu athlete said, “or the fact that Brazilians have to live in a society that enables this absolute bullshit on a daily basis.”

Last month two members of Australia’s Paralympic team were robbed at gunpoint while biking through a park; their bikes were stolen. And three members of the Spanish sailing team were also robbed back in May.

Rio officials keep reacting as if these are anomalies, little kinks they’re addressing appropriately. But the AP reports murders in Rio have sharply risen in the first half of 2016, with shootouts in Rio’s slums erupting daily. Additionally, police violence is spiking, as is violence against law enforcement (61 Rio officers killed since January).

"2016 has been a very bad year. We have seen a dramatic increase in homicides, robberies and other crimes," Ignacio Cano, a sociologist at the Violence Studies Lab of Rio de Janeiro State University, told the New Zealand Herald. "We lost a big opportunity to transform police and develop a new public safety model.”

There will be 85,000 police and soldiers on-hand for the games next month, double the presence at the 2012 Olympics in London. Still, skeptics remain doubtful of things to come. “This place is well and truly f***ked in every sense of the word imaginable," Lee wrote on Facebook.

Correction: A previous headline for this story called Lee an Olympic athlete. He was actually a professional athlete in Rio to attend the games.

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