Brazil needs to let our swimmers return home... immediately - UPDATE

Brazil has confiscated the passports of two US swimmers and have removed them from their airplane bound for home over discrepancies in their story of an armed robbery several days ago.

Jack Conger and Gunnar Bentz were questioned y police until 12:50 AM Wednesday night after a judge ordered them to remain in the country until further notice: (NBC Sports)

Attorney Sergio Viegas, who is representing the pair, said they will not be allowed to leave Brazil until they testify about the robbery. Their passports were “temporarily confiscated by a court order,” a detective with the Rio tourist police department said.

The move comes after a Brazilian judge issued an order to seize the passports belonging to American swimmers Ryan Lochte and James Feigen, prohibiting the Olympians from leaving the country.

According to the Brazilian authorities, the two Americans are being detained because there are inconsistencies in their account of the armed robbery from the wee hours of the morning after celebrating the US Olympic Swim Team’s historic victories.

For a moment, let’s stipulate that the armed robbery story is made up.  For the record, I don’t know one way or another whether the robbery took place, but I don’t understand why the four Olympians would make it up. But, as I said, let’s just stipulate that the robbery didn’t happen.  So?  Does this really rise to the level of passport confiscation, detention and an international incident?

It appears that Brazil is rather embarrassed by the string of violent crimes at these games that have occurred despite the Mayor of Rio’s public proclamation that these games would be “the safest place in the world.”  In fact, according to a Latin American legal expert speaking to the LA Times, it’s common for the Brazilian government to white-wash the dangers of their country:

Lowell Gustafson, a Villanova University professor who has studied Latin American politics, said Brazilian authorities have a history of downplaying bad news.

“What seems fairly traditional is for the Brazilian police and bureaucracy to call into question anyone making accusations,” Gustafson said. “They want to say that this doesn’t happen in Brazil.”

Indeed, the Games in Rio have been plagued by high-profile, violent crimes and this very public spectacle involving these American swimmers appears to be overkill on behalf of the Rio tourist bureau and has nothing to do with law and order or justice. (LA Times)

Two Australian rowing coaches were robbed in Ipanema, and an Olympic security officer was shot to death after taking a wrong turn into a favela. The Games’ chief of security was attacked by knife-wielding men as he left Maracana Stadium after the opening ceremony.

Stray bullets have landed in the equestrian venue in Deodoro on two occasions, and a bus carrying journalists in the area had its windows shattered. Rio officials said thrown rocks were to blame.

The State Department has acknowledged that they are aware of the situation: (WaPo)

“We have seen media reports that two U.S. citizen athletes were detained,” State Department spokesman John Kirby said. “We stand ready to provide all appropriate consular assistance. Due to privacy considerations, we do not have any further information to offer. We refer you to Brazilian authorities for more information about this case.”

That’s not good enough. There is absolutely no good reason to detain these young men. Even if you believe they made up their story, there is no actual crime here that rises to the level of passport confiscation and detention. At worst the swimmers are accused of making Brazil look bad and filing a false report.

Outrageous. Let them come home.

 

UPDATE:  Ed has the latest developments on this story as Brazil claims the swimmers were involved in an altercation resulting in damage to a gas station rest room. Read the account. If it is true, it sheds more light on what may have happened that night in Rio. However, it doesn’t change my over all point in this column. – LOC

US Swimmers