Home Countries Brazil Brazil and Scotland: the challenge of policing mega sport events

Brazil and Scotland: the challenge of policing mega sport events

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2014 is the year of mega sporting events. Just days after Brazil put on the World Cup, Scotland was for the first-time host for the Commonwealth Games 2014.

Mega sporting events have evolved to become a catalyst for developing the profile of whichever country wins the successful bid. These events are meant to guarantee a legacy that will facilitate change that long outlasts moments of top quality sport. The proposed legacy may include measures to strengthen the economy, employment, mobility and social environments but this year the mega sporting events have been used by governments in both Brazil and Scotland to increase their chances of doing well in upcoming elections.

“Game on” — The Politics behind the Sports

The Commonwealth Games are being held just weeks before the vote in the Scottish referendum for independence, on September 18, organised by the Scottish National Party (SNP). Scotland will decide whether they stay a part of the United Kingdom and under the authority of the UK coalition government, or break away and make the Scottish Parliament responsible for all laws, taxes and duties. The SNP are expected to use the Commonwealth Games to try to create a wave of feel-good patriotism and to boost the pro-independence vote.

This political drive has parallels in Brazil. President Dilma Rousseff and all federal and state politicians across Brazil are facing general and state-level elections on 5 October this year. It had been hoped that the smooth-running of the Cup and the Brazilian team’s star performance would rebound favourably on the ruling party.

In the event, Brazil’s showing in the Cup fell far short of expectations, ending in its ignominious defeat against Germany from which the country is still smarting. But the Cup was organised without major hitches, thanks in part to heavy-handed tactics, including the employment of military personnel.

However, military-style operations give little confidence to the public when both countries have police forces that have been under consistent scrutiny for their practices.

Mega Event Security alongside Controversial Policing?

Since the merger of Scotland’s eight police units to save costs and to create a single force to tackle crime (the SNP’s number one priority), Police Scotland has come under heavy criticism. Research indicates stop-and-search tactics have targeted children as young as six. Officers working alone has also been criticised as single officers have been found to be stopping people, with reports from victims of aggression and intimidation.

Although the intention to reduce crime across Scotland has been welcomed by the public,  many obsevers believe that the way this policy has been implemented has left the population feeling insecure and doubtful as to whether Police Scotland will be able to construct better community relations.

In August, Scotland’s human rights watchdog, the SHRC, reported concerns about Police Scotland’s use of armed of armed officers and its stop-and-seatch policy to the United Nations. Scotland has the highest level of stop-and-search in the UK, with the rate per capita estimated to be nine times greater than in New York.

The Commonwealth Games highlighted the problem. It was reported that 2,000 military personnel provided security during the event and 440 specialist officers were authorised to carry weapons while on duty. This decision was made without any consultation with the Scottish parliament, which has brought the police force under further scrutiny.

In Brazil, increased militarization, deployment of troops, controversial repressive tactics in police handling of protests, and violent clashes in favelas, particularly those occupied by Pacifying Police Units (UPPs) in Rio, have all been dominant features of the mega-event security operation for the World Cup 2014.

The similarity of approach in both countries is perhaps no coincidence.  As first time hosts, with approaching elections, the two countries’ security forces have been talking to each other

(Photo by Rio On Watch)

Meeting in the middle: The Rio State Military and Police Scotland

In February 2013, the Glasgow 2014 research team of academics from the Scottish Institute for Policing Research and the Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research hosted a research and knowledge exchange meeting with a visiting group of seven senior police officers from the Rio de Janeiro State Military Police. The officers were visiting Scotland as part of a “fact-finding mission” in order to inform their security operations for the FIFA World Cup 2014 and 2016 Olympic Games.

The invitation was replicated when the Glasgow 2014 research team took part in the Second International Conference of Mega Events and Cities in Rio de Janeiro in April this year, with a presentation entitled ‘The Glasgow Commonwealth Games 2014 – The Security Legacy’. The presentation focussed heavily on the intention to use “friendlier” methods in both policing and security surveillance. Professor Nick Fyffe, Director of the Scottish Institute of Policing, hopes to continue to develop its alliance with Brazil’s police in the run-up to Rio de Janeiro’s Olympics in 2016.

Although the current focus is on Brazil and Scotland, the Glasgow research project, funded by the European Commission, wants to influence all future mega events, by creating a security legacy model for wider replication. It also should not be forgotten that INTERPOL signed an agreement with the Rio 2016 Organizing Committee to provide law enforcement support for the sporting event and to ensure that the millions of fans, competitors and officials at the Games can enjoy them as safely and securely as possible.

An INTERPOL and UN Perspective: Dr Gilly McKenzie

I interviewed Dr Gilly McKenzie, an organised crime specialist for the United Nations and INTERPOL, in Scotland last year as part of my fact-finding mission to find out about the security plans for the Commonwealth Games. In the conversation, Dr McKenzie said that the Olympics committee would be watching the FIFA World Cup 2014 closely and it should not be assumed that Rio de Janeiro had fully secured a green light to host the event.

Speaking last year, he predicted:  “There will not be enough officers to filter out corruption in the Brazilian police. The World Cup will be a complete disaster and I can guarantee officers will not have received enough training. FIFA have no standards or strict obligations to protect the public, whereas the Olympics Committee does, which is why they approached INTERPOL as part of their security plans”. Unfortunately, Dr McKenzie was proved largely right in his prediction that the tactics used by the military and the UPP pacification programme did not protect the public from abuses.

Examples of negative security outcomes from the World Cup 2014:

16 protests with more than 10 wounded

10 times firearms were used

837 people have faced injuries, many from police brutality

2608 people were detained

117 journalists either assaulted or injured

Eight people killed

Mega sports events are meant to leave a legacy of urban regeneration and greater security for the local population. But this is not happening. Increasingly these events are being used to justify repression, social injustice and human rights violations, as well as being manipulated by the authorities for political ends. While it is not yet clear how the collaborative security endeavours between Scotland and Brazil will develop, it is evident that they are facing a similar challenge: both Police Scotland and Rio’s Military Police are losing the confidence of the public.


Janine Ewen has been focussing her research on policing and public health, with a current focus on sex workers, mega events and security impact. Janine carried out primary research in Rio de Janeiro last year entitled, ‘We will use the Venom of a Snake for a Useful Antidote’. Her interests in public health also extend into the humanitarian field, where she received acknowledgement from the British Red Cross for efforts on Scottish soil and in East Africa. Janine will present further research at the Law Enforcement and Public Health gathering in Amsterdam over October. Follow her on Twitter at @JanineEwen.