Brazil boosts security for Confederations Cup
On Sunday night Brazil is set to square off against Spain for the Confederations Cup title in front of an estimated 77,000 fans at the famed Maracana stadium.
But when the match starts, the action might be just as hot outside the stadium as whatever would be happening on the pitch.
In response to the most widespread social unrest ever in Brazil, the police have mounted the largest and most complicated security operation the country has ever attempted for a football match.
The Rio police will have 6,000 officers on hand, six times more than for the first Confederations Cup match in Rio just two weeks ago between Mexico and Italy.
Added to that, there will be roughly 600 members of the Ministry of Justice National Force officers, plus an estimated 4,000 other federal security agents, raising the total to almost 11,000 security force. And that is just outside the stadium.
Inside Maracana, security will be handled by a team of 1,300 private security guards (250 more than normal) under auspices of the local organising committee and FIFA.
The 1989 World Cup qualifier in Rio between Brazil and Chile had 2,000 local police, and was until now the largest security operation for a football match inside Brazil. Sunday’s match will be three times larger just in the number of local police deployed.
Despite the fact that the vast majority of the protesters are peaceful, and specially go out of their way to avoid conflict or violence, police say the wall of security will be necessary to ensure ticketed fans, vendors, delegations and FIFA officials can get to the stadium while also maintaining a strict security bubble around the stadium in accordance with FIFA demands and contractual obligations between Brazil and the football body.
Acts of vandalism
Rio police Col. Frederico Caldas told me on Saturday that as the protests increased in intensity at Confederations Cup host cities in the past two weeks, the plans changed for security at Maracana.
"In our initial planning we were going to use 1,000 police officers at Maracana, that is what we had for the Brazil and England friendly," he told me from his office at the main police headquarters in Rio.
"The idea was to repeat this throughout the Confederations Cup tournament, but because of the protests and the increased possibility that protesters will try to block access to the stadium, we have increased security considerably."
Caldas has no idea what to expect in terms of crowds on Sunday, but said they are preparing for hundreds of thousands. He said acts of vandalism by small groups of protesters will not be tolerated.
Gustavo Mehl, a protest organizer, told Al Jazeera police security concerns are misplaced.
"The police need to be concerned with providing security to the people on the perimeter of the stadium including the protesters and guaranteeing our safety," he said.
"Because what we have seen in protests the past couple weeks in several host cities is repression and police violence against protesters and even journalists."
A journalism watchdog group in Brazil says that more than 50 journalists have been injured during street protests in the country since the uprising started, many claim to have been targeted by riot police.
Everybody is hoping Sunday is peaceful and both the football and the protests go off without violence.
But just in case, Col. Caldas told me they have stocked up on extra tear gas to replenish a supply that was running low.
Follow Gabriel Elizondo on Twitter @elizondogabriel