Anyone who's dealt with third world cops knows the scam. You deftly brush up against the law, in whichever colonialist or neo-colonialist victim-nation you're in, and bang! You're bundled into a dimly lit dungeon with a naked swinging bulb. A procession of officers then take turns berating you in a language you don't understand, waving documents at you you can't read, and crying foul over laws you never knew existed. Eventually you're offered the chance to pay a ludicrous sum for your freedom, which you accept, because, fuck, you've got an itinerary to keep and third world jail sounds like a shit idea.
Compare that to what Australia's "naughty nine" Olympic athletes just went through. After getting busted for an age-old, largely victimless ticketing accreditation crime (in a bid to watch their teammates in the Boomers basketball team play Serbia in the semi-finals) they were detained and questioned for ten hours by Brazilian authorities, forced to hand over their passports, and ordered to cough up A$36,000 worth of taxpayer loot for their freedom.
"It's unfortunately a practice that has been traditional not only in Australia but other countries as well for many Olympic Games, putting a sticker on your accreditation with another venue access code on it," explained Australia's Chef De Mission, Kitty Chiller, of what was once considered a harmless swindle tried by various athletes of various nations over the course of many Olympic Games.
It's hard to blame the athletes. Many are amateur or semi-professional (in that they are forced to work day jobs alongside their sport) and unable to afford tickets to watch their teammates play or unable to get their hands on any for the most high-profile events. The athletes are also right to expect a little extra privilege or goodwill during the Games. After all, they wouldn't exist without them and they didn't travel halfway around the world to watch their teammate compete on TV. So someone tries a sneaky little sticker swap on their accreditation. It's worked for years before this. What's the worst that could happen? A ticket attendant waving their finger in your face and refusing you entry? Not in Brazil - not at these Games.
When found to have fudged their accreditation, the "naughty nine" Australian athletes, as they've been dubbed, found themselves detained by police from 7pm until 5:30am the next day. Their passports and travel documents were confiscated and they were threatened with jail time unless they paid a fine. Eventually the Australian Olympic Committee agreed, parting with A$36,000. The athletes were also slugged with a two-year good behaviour bond by Brazilian authorities, plus a bonus national media circus for good measure.
The heavy-handed, heavily-publicised response to the minor ticket swindle comes on the back of one of the most scandal-plagued Olympics in history. It also fits with the narrative of Brazilian authorities coming down disproportionately hard on foreigner infractions. Earlier in the week Irish IOC member Pat Hickey was arrested in his son's hotel room for allegedly re-selling tickets at more than face-value. Humiliating police footage of him getting around naked in the room was subsequently leaked and posted online before evidence of any wrongdoing had emerged, let alone a court case.The Australian has labelled the severity of the backlash on foreign athletes and officials a "payback" from local authorities on behalf of what many in the country feel was a costly, wasteful, and corrupt Olympics. Brazil is currently facing an economic recession not seen since the 1930s while President Dilma Rousseff is undergoing an impeachment trial.
The furore over accreditation, meanwhile, reeks of hypocrisy after Australian and Danish Olympic athletes both had their rooms robbed to the tune of a handful of laptops, iPhones, iPads and team apparel in the opening stages of the games; the perpetrators believed to be either the dozens of unaccredited workers and cleaners getting around the village or government firefighters brought in to extinguish the basement fire that forced an evacuation of athletes. The investigation into that is ongoing.
The accreditation scandal comes after the Rio Games was also beset by a ticketing controversy that saw thousands of seats left empty throughout key events, including track and field. Then there's the rest - countless other scams, robberies and security bungles resulting from a toxic cocktail of favela poverty, rotten infrastructure and corrupt officials. A quick rundown to prove I'm not lying, pulls up the the Kiwi Juijitsu competitor who was robbed at gunpoint by military police, the rancid sewage sailing athletes were forced to compete in, and a half-dozen hair-raising reports of gunpoint robberies. Among them Australian swimmer Josh Palmer, who was forced to endure a six hour police interrogation after he reported his robbery to authorities.
When the AOC went to hand over the 'Naughty Nine's' fines, they confronted yet more painstaking bureaucracy. This time in the form of an obscure Rio-only public holiday, which would make paying the fine impossible and force the athletes in question to miss their charter flight home.
In the end, despite the millions of dollars invested in training, planning, and officialdom, it was left a little-known Sao Paulo-based TV producer, Jessica Cruz, hired by the Australian commercial television network, Channel Nine, to save the day.
"I was happy to do it. When you are in a different country, you get stuck... if it was me stuck in another country, I'd really appreciate the help," she told the Nine Network of her role in negotiating the release of the athletes travel documents and the payment of the fines.
She then offered this pearl of advice for any westerner locked in a tangle with third-world authorities: "it's the way you talk to them, don't be angry. Be nice cause they can get grumpy."