Australian Paralympic Sailing and Basketball team members robbed in Rio
Rio de Janerio: Two members of the Australian Paralympic sailing team have been robbed at gunpoint in Rio de Janeiro, emphasizing fears of crime against foreign athletes ahead of the Summer Olympics.
A statement from the Australian Sailing team said athlete Liesl Tesch and team official Sarah Ross were confronted by two men while riding their bicycles in a Rio park Sunday. One of the men was carrying a pistol and the women were robbed of their bicycles.
In the statement Monday, Tesch is quoted as saying “We are both shaken, but physically we’re both OK.”
Tesch raced at the Paralympic sailing venue later that day.
Brazilian police are investigating.
High crime, slow preparations and a Zika outbreak have led some to question Rio’s hosting of the Aug. 5-21 Olympic Games.
Australian Paralympian Liesl Tesch says Rio de Janeiro is a “dangerous place” after being robbed of her bicycle at gunpoint in the Brazilian city.
The Woy Woy-based sailor and wheelchair basketball player, who is competing at her seventh Paralympics in Rio, was on a fitness ride with her physiotherapist when two men jumped in front of them and demanded money.
She said several people saw the incident, but no one came to their aid.
“I think he said dinero … which means money, so I lifted up my shirt and said: ‘look I don’t have any money’,” she said.
“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, I can see it clear as day in my own head … it was a pistol.”
Tesch, who won gold for Australia in sailing at the London Paralympics and has also won silver and bronze medals in basketball, said she was due to fly home to Woy Woy on Wednesday night.
“Sarah [the physiotherapist] said some swear words at the man and then screamed for help. I didn’t say anything because there was a gun,” she added.
“We’ve already had conversations about if anything happens, just give them what they want.
“Sarah didn’t see the gun. Her guy didn’t have a gun.”
The athlete was not injured in the incident but was shocked by the attack, and described the local police station as being like “a turnstile of crime”.
Athletes in Rio for the Olympics and Paralympics have been briefed on the risks — including water quality and the Zika virus — but Tesch said her team had almost joked about the high level of security in place for the Games.
“When it actually happens to you, it actually reinforces how dangerous this city is and how lucky we are to live in Australia,” she said.
“My important message is to make it really clear, that this is a dangerous place and you’ve got to be on your guard.
“I don’t think we could have done anything different than what we’ve done … the local feedback is that you’ve … done the right thing showing them that you had nothing and giving them exactly what they wanted.”
Calls for extra security ahead of Games
Director of Security for the Australian team Greg Nance said they had asked Rio authorities to bring forward successful protocols used during the soccer World Cup.
“In the lead-up we want the streets secured, which they promised to do and we’re asking them to bring those [protocols] forward,” Mr Nance said.
Mr Nance said Rio was a safe city to compete in providing precautions were taken.
He said test events had been carried out in Rio over the past 18 months and there had been no problems and he said strict protocols were already in place for Australian officials and athletes.
“They’re common sense things like only being in large and groups of three or more, not wearing flashy clothes, avoiding certain areas of Rio, particularly at night time but still being able to enjoy Rio,” Mr Nance said.
Brazilian authorities have said that more than 80,000 security personnel will police the Games.
Safety of Australian athletes ‘paramount’
Australian Sailing and the Australian Paralympic Committee said the safety of Tesch and team official Sarah Ross was “paramount”.
“We will continue to work with the Australian Paralympic Committee and Australian Federal Police (AFP) to ensure our team has an appropriate level of security to ensure their safety in the lead-up to, and during, both the Olympic and Paralympic Games,” said Matt Carroll, CEO of Australian Sailing.
Kate McLoughlin, Chef de Mission of the 2016 Australian Paralympic Team, said officials from the Australian Embassy in Brasilia have since been to the Australian team’s hotel to offer assistance and have spoken with local authorities.
“They’re a little bit shaken, the reality of the situation over in Rio has come home and that’s not good, but they’re doing ok, considering,” Ms McLoughlin said.
“We have an Australian Federal Police officer embed in our team, which is a fantastic advantage for us so we’ll work with him in the coming days just to ascertain whether this does change anything in terms of our plans.”
Ms McLoughlin said AFP advice, which has been communicated to all sports official aiming to compete at the Games, was to always exercise a high degree of caution while travelling in Rio.