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'Mugging' scene in Rio ceremony sparks controversy

2016-08-02 11:19
Rio Olympics (Getty Images)

Rio de Janeiro - A scene in the Rio Olympic opening ceremony that spectators at a rehearsal thought depicted an attempted mugging of supermodel Gisele Bundchen sparked a bizarre polemic in Brazil on Monday.

Details are top secret ahead of this Friday's ceremony.

However, leaks following a dress rehearsal at Rio's Maracana stadium late on Sunday included multiple reports of a skit in which a mugger attempts to rob the Brazilian supermodel before police intervene and she forgives her assailant.

Ceremony organizers lashed out at the reports, saying they were inaccurate and violated requests to keep the content of the extravaganza under wraps until the last moment.

Brazilian newspapers, however, quoted witnesses saying that they were sure that the scene showed an attempted street robbery - a surprising choice in an Olympic host city plagued by real life crime.

According to Folha de Sao Paulo daily, the Brazilian model struts out to "Girl from Ipanema," a classic hit song celebrating a beautiful, young woman of Rio, and is "assaulted by an actor."

"The final message from the scene, however, will be peace," the report said.

One of the show's masterminds, "City of God" movie director Fernando Meirelles, angrily denied the report.

"Folha de SP says Gisele is assaulted during the opening ceremony at the Olympics. Where does Folha get this dumb idea from? They messed up badly," he tweeted.

The Olympic organizing committee told AFP in a statement only that "there is no robbery," declining to explain further.

However, in a new twist late Monday, a well connected columnist for Globo newspaper, Lauro Jardim, reported that the controversial scene was being axed.

According to Jardim, directors had meant to have the scene show a street vendor running up to Bundchen to sell her a bikini.

"On paper, it was perfect. At the rehearsal yesterday, however, it didn't work," the columnist wrote. "It gave the impression to those watching that it was about an assault. And from this it turned into a polemic on social media."

Among others reporting the supposed assault scene was the news site olimpiadas.uol.com.br, which reported that the model is "approached by an actor in a scene resembling an assault."

"The boy (mugger) approaches the artist and is chased by policemen before returning close to Gisele and being protected by her," the report said.

O Dia newspaper, which often reports on violent crime in Rio, commented that the scene stood out in the "beautiful and perfect" dress rehearsal.

"In the middle of her walk, Gisele is attacked by a kid! That's right: assaulted!"

"Suddenly two police seize the kid and, like in a film with a happy ending, Gisele embraces the assailant and everyone celebrates. This seems like a strange homage to Rio. And it is!" O Dia concluded.

The newspaper quoted an unnamed cast member in the ceremony as saying that the scene spoils the whole show. "We have complained," the participant said. "I hope it does not go ahead."

Bundchen retired from the runway in 2015 as the world's highest paid model. Married to NFL star quarterback Tom Brady, she remains active in fashion and is one of Brazil's biggest celebrities.

Rio de Janeiro is hosting South America's first Olympic Games. Security is a major issue, with thousands of troops patrolling the streets, as well as heavily reinforced police.

According to official statistics, murders in Rio de Janeiro state rose 17 percent to 2 470 in the first half of this year. Street robberies rocketed, up 34 percent to 58 999 incidents.

Depictions of police confronting criminals would likely raise eyebrows.

Rio state officers killed at least 645 people last year and over 8 000 over the last decade, Human Rights Watch said in a study last month. They are also accused of frequently tampering with evidence to cover up killings by officers.

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