Dylan Cleaver on sport
Sport analysis and comment from Dylan Cleaver

Midweek Fixture: The day I ran into a boy armed with an Uzi and a duck

By Dylan Cleaver

Police stand guard on Arpoador beach in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. photo / AP
Police stand guard on Arpoador beach in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. photo / AP

If the Brazilians needed an ambassador for the imminent Olympic Games, they should look further than former footballing wizard Rivaldo.

With the Olympics less than three months away we are still waiting on an upsurge in positivity from the world's fifth-largest country.

Instead we get this.

"Things are getting uglier here every day," Rivaldo wrote on his Instagram account. "I advise everyone with plans to visit Brazil for the Olympics in Rio to stay home. You'll be putting your life at risk here. This is without even speaking about the state of public hospitals and all the Brazilian political mess."

While most people coming from afar will have long decided whether to attend the Games or not, this will not help what we like to call the walk-up crowd.

"Only God can change the situation in our Brazil."

Call me a cynic, but I have my doubts about that: God doesn't have a great track record when it comes to intervening in crises of any sort, whether they be humanitarian, natural disasters or even his own priests behaving badly.

I suspect change will not arrive through intervention of the divine sort, but by the people, for the people.

It won't be quick either, which means that these Olympics will, as Rivaldo suggests, take place during a time of simmering turmoil.

Crime, as it seems the former Barcelona playmaker is suggesting, is an ever-present concern in Brazil and in particular Rio de Janeiro. I tagged along with Sky late last year as they filmed some preview segments with their Sky Next athletes Emma Twigg and David Nyika - both of whom are seeking 11th-hour nominations for the Games - and we were always made aware of where we should and shouldn't go.

Even on a tour through the city's biggest favela there was an incident that will be forever wired upon my hard drive.

Rocinha is a favela - essentially a shanty town of unregulated housing - that sits on a hillside in the south of the city, between two Olympic enclaves of Barra da Tijuca and Copacabana. This side of a hill houses approximately the population of Wellington.

We were taken through Rocinha by local legend Paulo Amendoim. At the top there was a heavily armed police posting. Rocinha was 'pacified' in time for the 2014 Fifa World Cup, which is a euphemism for the police and military ridding the neighbourhood of drug barons.

As we wandered down the hill the alleys narrowed and the sunlight found it harder to penetrate. This was a police no-go zone.

The houses went from ramshackle to flat-out shackle.

Turning a corner we were confronted by the sight of a small boy sitting on a chair with an assault weapon across his lap. He was soon joined by two (presumptive) teenagers, both armed, one carrying what looked like an Uzi in one hand and, unless my startled eyes were deceiving me, a duck in the other.

It is difficult to try to explain what goes through your head when confronted by a kid armed with a submachine gun and poultry.

A conversation in rapid-fire Portuguese between Paulo and the kids ensued. After seconds that seemed like minutes, wide smiles broke out and we were escorted away with friendly "bom dias" ringing in our ears.

It was only at the bottom of the favela that we got an explanation. A heavily fortified drug lord has moved back into Rocinha, and we had wandered into one of his armed outposts. The conversation was essentially the kids telling Paulo which way not to walk.

I share this story not to side with Rivaldo but for two reasons: first, the normal rules do not apply in large parts of Rio, but you actually have to make an effort to seek it out; and, second, I've been dying for an excuse to write about this encounter.

But if people stayed away from Rio 2016 en masse on the advice of Rivaldo then he's done the Games a huge disservice. I have fears for the Games, which I have outlined here, but public safety is low on the list.

You have to be careful, listen to people when they tell you where you shouldn't go and take the sort of security cautions you normally would in an unfamiliar place.

My guess is the Games' organisers and under-siege Government will stop at nothing to ensure the safety of visitors. They might not stop all the petty crime, but you could run into that sort of thing in Sydney, Athens and London as well.

Rivaldo would know his own country far better than I - he is from the coastal city of Recife and now lives in Sao Paulo - but it seems a little sad that a Brazilian hero would go out of his way to rain on Rio's parade.


In response to last week's column raising the idea that New Zealand Rugby should introduce a nationally televised Super Rugby draft for the best high school talent, the Players' Association tsar Rob Nichol writes: "We have had a draft for the last 20 years? This year 30 players were picked in Super Rugby via a draft. Also there are a whole lot of other factors that contribute to bringing talent through and essentially ensuring the best get there. Operating multiple competitions and teams makes our environment incomparable to most other sports like NFL."

In the best traditions of rugby, the current draft is largely an in-house operation; there is no television coverage and the draft gives no indication as to the ranking of our talent coming out of the best secondary school competitions in the world. At best it is draft-lite. And yes, I'm sure if you try hard enough you could find at least 623 good reasons why it would be difficult to do what I suggested.


I'm buying... Mergers

It could only enhance both Manchester City and Manchester United if they merged their complementary businesses.

I'm selling... the 'Anzac' test

Never again will I waste 48 minutes (yep, didn't get through it) that could have been put to a better use. This test could have brought to you by Stilnox (too soon?).


Investigative journalism at its best. For the purposes of this column, I'm considering crosswords to be a sport.


Look out Las Vegas, I'm starting to get cocky here.

Last week: Crusaders to beat the Reds by 13+ allied to the Brumbies beating the Bulls head to head ensured another cute little double-your-money scenario - $20.90 to be exact.

This week: A low-risk, three-headed multi that sees the Sydney Swans ($1.22) and West Coast Eagles ($1.13) beating strugglers Richmond and St Kilda respectively. Also, the Waratahs ($1.37) will beat the Bulls at home in the Super Rugby. This strikingly unimaginative bet should accrue $18.90.

Total spent: $130 Total collected: $136.85

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