Button attack sends alert ahead of WCup, Olympics

Heavily armed gunmen targeting high-profile sports stars on the

streets of Brazil – it’s the ultimate nightmare scenario for

Olympic and World Cup organizers.

And now the attempted attack on Formula One champion Jenson

Button has raised alarm bells about security in Brazil for the 2014

World Cup and the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics.

”It’s not a very nice feeling having to come to work in a

bulletproof car with a policeman as the driver and two police cars,

one in front and one in back,” Button said. ”But that’s the way

it is.”

The Brazilian government said it is confident visitors will be

safe during the World Cup and Olympics, but an official with the

Justice Ministry acknowledged that ”without a doubt there is still

a lot to improve.”

Button was the victim of an attempted robbery while leaving the

Interlagos track Saturday evening, escaping thanks to the skills of

an undercover driver who had been hired to drive McLaren team

members in armored cars.

The driver rammed through several vehicles as the assailants ran

toward them with machine guns in hand, swiftly driving to safety

through traffic.

At about the same time Button’s car was attacked, three Sauber

team engineers had to go through a similar ordeal while leaving the

track. Five armed men forced them to stop their vehicle and hand

over their belongings.

”Authorities have four years to try to improve security here,

to do the decent thing,” said Guaracy Mingardi, a former national

public safety subsecretary and former U.N. adviser on crime.

”Although this is the type of crime that exists everywhere, it

shouldn’t be happening during major events like this.”

Security has always been one of the main concerns since Brazil

was selected host of the World Cup and the Olympics. The South

American country doesn’t traditionally have to worry about threats

of terrorism, but armed street crimes are not new to

Brazilians.

Attacks on drivers who stop at traffic lights or slow their cars

in areas with intense traffic are not uncommon in some poor city

areas such as the one Interlagos is located, surrounded by

low-income houses and shantytowns.

”This is a problem that every well-off Brazilian is subjected

to. It happens every day here,” Mingardi said Monday. ”But

because it happened with a foreigner, the repercussion is much

bigger, that’s the only difference.”

There had been problems at Interlagos in the past, with

spectators and team members being robbed in the neighborhood, but

it was the first time a driver became the victim.

In 2007, a group of gun-wielding youths held up spectators in

three cars leaving the circuit, and in 2006 members of the Toyota

team were attacked by armed youths as they left the track. No one

was hurt.

”There is no way to completely avoid these crimes, anywhere,”

Mingardi said. ”But we can improve the security during these major

events, especially by perfecting the police intelligence.”

Security is usually increased in the Interlagos area during the

Brazilian GP, but gang members sometimes are still able to take

advantage of the high number of people attending the event. Button

said he thinks it was a random attack and he was in the wrong place

at the wrong time.

McLaren and most of the other teams take extra safety measures

at the Brazilian GP, giving their drivers armored cars and hiring

local police officers.

Rio 2016 organizers and World Cup organizers declined to comment

on the attempted attack on Button.

The International Olympic Committee said ”security is a matter

for the local authorities and we have absolute confidence that the

Brazilian and Rio authorities will provide a safe and secure games

in six years time.”

The Brazilian government mentions the 2007 Pan American Games in

Rio de Janeiro to show that authorities are able to successfully

host major events.

Robson Robin, an official with Brazil’s public safety

secretariat at the Justice Ministry, said security will be

significantly improved during the World Cup and the Olympics, but

the bigger challenge is to guarantee safety to those wandering away

from where the events are happening.

”Without a doubt there is still a lot to improve,” Robin said.

”But there is a lot being done because of the World Cup and the

Olympics, so security will be improving gradually for everyone in

Brazil in the next few years, not only the visitors. As we get near

these major events, it will be safer even in the more vulnerable

areas.”

Robin said that what happened to Button and other Formula One

team members were isolated cases.

”We won’t need tourists worrying about getting armored cars

when they come here for the World Cup and the Olympics,” he said.

”That’s not the reality.”