Wind, doping and VIP robbery plague Rio Games

RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - Damaging wind gusts, a fresh doping controversy and the robbery of a visiting government minister presented the Rio Games with a perfect storm of problems on Sunday, forcing organizers to scramble to keep the world’s biggest sporting event rolling on.

2016 Rio Olympics - Rowing - Repechage - Men's Single Sculls Repechages - Lagoa Stadium - Rio De Janeiro, Brazil - 07/08/2016. Race officials stand by in a boat shortly after competition was postponed due to high winds. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

Winds wreaked havoc on the second full day of competition, forcing the cancellation of rowing races and delays to tennis and kayaking, while spectators ran for cover from flying signs, cafe umbrellas and other debris torn from their moorings.

Games organizers, who were already looking to fix the long queues at security checkpoints that marred the first day, also faced new security scares. Portugal’s education minister was robbed at knifepoint on Saturday at the Olympic lake. He escaped unharmed and the assailant was arrested, Brazilian authorities said.

More security was also put around the equestrian center after a stray bullet tore through the roof of the press room there on Saturday, an unexplained incident which caused no injuries. The center is near a military complex and a slum.

“This is a worrying situation and is not an incident we can take lightly as the safety of everyone at our venue – athletes, horses, media and spectators – is of prime importance,” said International Equestrian Federation president Ingmar De Vos.

Brazilian authorities are still investigating.

As powerful gusts swept across the host city, blowing debris and forcing spectators to find cover, the Rio Games was hit by a new Russian doping storm, this time involving the Paralympics, due to run from Sept. 7 to 18.

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The International Paralympic Committee (IPC) announced in Rio it would ban Russia from the whole event due to widespread doping that it said had polluted sport in that country.

“Tragically this situation is not about athletes cheating a system, but about a state-run system that is cheating the athletes,” IPC president Philip Craven told reporters.

“I believe the Russian government has catastrophically failed its para-athletes. Their medals-over-morals mentality disgusts me.”

Russia immediately announced it would be appealing against the ban to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

The IPC’s decision contrasted with the International Olympic Committee which balked at a blanket ban on Russia’s athletes in Rio. The global anti-doping agency had called for such a ban after an inquiry found Russia was running a state-backed doping program for both Olympic and Paralympic athletes.

“The IPC showed strong leadership today in holding Russia’s state-organized doping program accountable. Their unanimous decision goes a long way towards inspiring us all,” said Travis Tygart, chief executive of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency.

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Of all the problems faced by Rio organizers, street crime is the one they have least control over.

Brazil’s Ministry of Justice said a senior government official, who works for an agency responsible for security at major events such as the Olympics, was the target of an assault as he left the opening ceremony on Friday.

Felipe Seixas, who was accompanied by two undercover police, was confronted by armed robbers outside Maracana stadium. One was shot and killed by one of the undercover officers.

On Wednesday, three Swedish tourists were briefly abducted by armed men after they stopped to take photos near a dangerous slum. They were released unharmed.

Some 500,000 foreign visitors are expected to descend on Rio for the Games. They are protected by 85,000 police and soldiers, more than double the security for the 2012 Games in London.

Additional reporting by Scott Malone, Alan Baldwin, Angus McSwan, Drazen Jorgic, Jack Stubbs, Brad Brooks, Rodrigo Viga Gaier, Caroline Stauffer; Writing by Mark Bendeich; Editing by Bill Rigby