Claire Trevett is the New Zealand Herald’s deputy political editor.

Jonathan Coleman: Danger a reality in Rio but confident Olympics team safe

Sport Minister Jonathan Coleman in his Beehive office beside a photo of New Zealand's 1500m 1936 Olympic gold medallist Jack Lovelock. PHOTO/Mark Mitchell
Sport Minister Jonathan Coleman in his Beehive office beside a photo of New Zealand's 1500m 1936 Olympic gold medallist Jack Lovelock. PHOTO/Mark Mitchell

Sports Minister Jonathan Coleman says Rio is not risk-free but reports of violent protests, coaches being beaten and bullets coming through tents at the Rio Olympics have not raised his concerns about the safety of New Zealand athletes at the Games.

Coleman said he was confident the New Zealand Olympics team management had taken all measures possible and the athletes were well briefed on security and health precautions.

He expected he would be briefed of any incidents involving the New Zealanders after he went to Rio himself on Tuesday.

"In a city like Rio there will be stuff that happens, that's probably the reality of it. But around an Olympics, you've got 80,000 police there, you've got well over 100,000 visitors.

He said in the lead up to the Games, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had helped with risk assessments and kept an eye on political developments such as the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff, protests, and infrastructure problems.

"You can only control the bits you can control. Nothing is absolutely risk-free in terms of a visit to Rio, but well over 99.9999 per cent of the people who visit will come home safely, I imagine. But at the same time anyone travelling there does need to listen to the advice and take all precautions."

Labour leader Andrew Little said having a bullet fired randomly was "pretty disturbing" as were protests over the cost of the Games and the political situation.

"It's a pretty politically divided country and there's some pretty angry people around so it's not surprising the Olympics has been made a target of that. Add to that the lawlessness they're known for and it's a bit of an interesting mix into which our athletes and others have done."

However, officials and the NZ Olympics Committee had clearly done risk assessments and decided it was safe to go and compete.

"Whenever an Olympics comes up we should try and compete. It's the nature and spirit of the Games. But I would hope those responsible for sending them there and managing them while they are there are ensuring they are safe and secure."

He said as far as he was aware no Labour MP was going to Rio.

Coleman is the only minister attending the Games and was not worried for his own safety saying he had been to Afghanistan three times when he was Defence Minister.

He said it was a privilege to attend and he hoped to watch some rowing and cycling as well as Valerie Adams in the shotput.

The "iconic Olympic event" for him was the men's 1500m because of New Zealand's history in it.

Coleman has a framed photo of Jack Lovelock on his office wall.

- NZ Herald

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