Security at this year's FIFA World Cup has been intensely scrutinized, starting months in advance as host country Brazil raced to get its stadiums ready for the 32-team tournament, a topic addressed by AB's Michael Gaio last month. Next came the safety of athletes, coaches and spectators.
Growing concern over street crime, gangs, terrorism and transportation gridlock led Brazil to employ approximately 170,000 security personnel to ensure those security threats were addressed. And that's not all. Bomb-busting robots, surveillance drones and anti-aircraft tanks were also being utilized to protect those visitors to a country with one of the highest murder rates in the world. Too bad similar attention wasn't paid to the stadiums themselves. Despite being the best World Cup I've watched in four years, there have been numerous safety and security failures at various stadiums through the first two weeks of the tournament — failures that should've been easily preventable.
First, Chilean fans stormed Maracana Stadium shortly before its team was set to play defending champion Spain, breaking through two barriers of temporary walls and busting through the media center with little to no resistance from stadium security. Most of the fans were ticketless, and 85 were later apprehended by military police and given 72 hours to leave the country in a security lapse FIFA's director of security deemed "embarrassing." In response, Brazil brought in 600 additional security forces and military police, and put up higher perimeter fences for the game between Russia and Belgium. Similar security measures were taken at the 11 other stadiums, as well.
Maracana Stadium was also the site of a protest shortly before the Argentina and Bosnia-Herzegovina match that resulted in police firing stun grenades and tear gas to block 200 protestors marching toward the stadium. Police reportedly were videotaped firing live rounds into the air.
Moving on to the great match between Ghana versus Germany, widely considered the best game in the tournament so far. A fan raced onto the pitch in the second half, jumped past security before being detained by Ghana midfielder Sulley Muntari. He was later identified as a neo-Nazi sympathizer. Oh yeah, and there were also those fans at the match wearing blackface makeup in an attempt to incite a reaction from other spectators. Stadium security did not intervene, according to a report by anti-discrimination network Fare.
Perhaps the most disturbing safety failure at the World Cup involves Uruguay midfielder Alvaro Pereira. In the match against England, Pereira clearly sustained a concussion after being kneed in the head. He was flat on his back for a lengthy period of time, which isn't a big deal in soccer as players have been known to roll around on the ground screaming in agonizing pain after being sneezed on by an opponent. But this was different. Pereira was unresponsive. He stumbled badly when he tried to walk off the field, and would later describe feeling "like the lights went out." But when he saw he was going to be substituted, he waved the doctors and coach off, and promptly went back into the game, yet another reminder at how far soccer needs to come in its treatment of concussions.
Regardless, one thing is certain: It will be an entertaining remaining tournament filled with great games, a new champion and, more than likely, more than a few more security failures.