Explosion At The Olympics: Controlled Blast Occurs Near Finish Line

Police run as a torch-bearer carries the Olympic torch.

As reported by NBC, bystanders and television viewers were momentarily shocked today by an explosion at the Olympics near one of Rio’s Olympic cycling events. The sound of the explosion was audible at the press center situated near the finish line for the 237.5-kilometer race and was broadcast to viewers around the world. Authorities quickly clarified that this was a controlled explosion – carried out by the police themselves – of a suspicious package and that no one was injured or in danger. Fortunately, the cyclist themselves were still many kilometers from the finish line. However, this positive outcome did little to calm anyone’s nerves.

USA Today points out that controlled explosion is one of several similar bomb scares that authorities have had over the previous week throughout the city. This particular explosion simply received wider notice because it took place in front of reporters and closer to an event.

People have been on edge in the city during the weeks leading up to the 2016 Olympics. The tensions in Rio have left many political and security experts expecting either a metaphorical or – in this case – literal explosion at the Olympics. Police and soldiers have been practicing throughout the city in hopes that they can prevent the worst from happening.

Athletes of the France cycling team talk with Brazilian security.
As Time reports, the government has launched an enormous effort to protect against terrorist gun battles or explosions in the city, as well as to try to deal with Rio’s numerous criminal elements. Legions of police officers and soldiers patrol the city streets. In fact, a number of human rights organizations have already complained that the tactics the police and soldiers are using against the poor and homeless are a violation of human rights.

But these concerns about police violence and overreaction are largely offset by many people’s concerns about the safety of the athletes, the tourists, and the city as a whole during the various events. Today’s explosion at the Olympics only heightens people’s fears.

Certainly, Rio’s already lax traditions regarding police behavior have become even less stringent in the days leading up to the Olympics. Also, virtually every public place in Rio that might be used by athletes or tourists has armed guards, police, or soldiers guarding it.

Rio police watch as a new VLT (Light Rail Vehicle) passes.

While there has been street crime and the usual murders in Rio, for the most part people’s worst fears about the 2016 Olympics have not been realized. Of course, there is still a long way to go before Rio can declare an all-clear from any future explosion, figurative or otherwise.

Security concerns are only one of a myriad of problems facing the 2016 Olympics in Rio. Even though the city has had years in which to prepare for the Olympics and has spent billions of dollars in doing so, virtually everyone – including the Brazilian government itself – acknowledges that they were poorly prepared for the event.

From concerns about the Zika virus to unfinished venues, the Rio Olympics has been a swirl of controversy for months now. And beyond these physical problems directly associated with hosting the Olympics, Brazil has been experiencing a major political and constitutional crisis.

Corruption scandals involving the previous president and the current one – Dilma Rousseff – have left the country without clear and decisive leadership. Given all of these problems, it’s perhaps surprising that Brazil has done as well as it has in hosting the Olympics. If the worst explosion at the Olympics is just the police blowing up a forgotten backpack, Rio officials might be happy to count their blessings.

For many people, the largely successful opening ceremonies and the commencement of the games themselves serve as some compensation for all the worries and struggles Brazil has faced over the last few years. Unfortunately, when the Olympics are finally over and everyone goes home, Brazil will still have many of the same problems it had before.

[Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images]