Latin America & Caribbean

Will crime cripple Rio's Olympic ambitions?

Navigating the morning rush hour on a skateboard is ambitious. Doing it with a surf board under your arm may just be suicidal. By juggling the Pope, Carnival, the World Cup and the Olympics all in the space of just three years, Rio de Janeiro is perhaps similarly crazy.

But, to stretch the analogy just a little too far, my skateboarding surfer carried off his challenging commute to the beach with a lot of style and, as far I could see, only the odd wobble. So, can Rio pull off the same trick?

The mayor of what locals like to call "the marvellous city" certainly thinks so. Eduardo Paes took me on a tour of Rio de Janeiro by helicopter.

There's no better way to see the Olympic future than from the air. We flew over the site of the Olympic village.

While the buildings certainly aren't finished yet, preparations, he says, are on schedule.

Unfortunately the bill is going up as fast as the stadiums. It's thought the Olympics project is some 25-50% over budget.

But Mr Paes thinks the cost is worth it. He doesn't just want to host the 2016 games, he wants them to transform and modernise this city. He's raised private money to renovate the city's old port. Even Donald Trump is investing.

But it's controversial. The mayor is blowing up a commuter highway and building luxury apartments to renovate the area. Critics say that doesn't really do much for the city's poor.

Two years out, it's too early to say whether the mayor's Olympic ambitions will come off.

The World Cup, on the other hand, is less than four months away and Brazil is still missing deadlines.

Just this week, they talked of ditching one of the match locations because the stadium in the city was clearly never going to be ready in time.

Rio's stadium, the iconic Maracana, where the Cup final will be held, is already ready.

There may not be enough hotel rooms to house the tens of thousands of tourists who will make the beaches of Rio their tournament base, but the extra space should be available in private homes. The bigger problem here is crime.

In 2008, the city decided to clean up the favelas, the notorious shanty towns that tumble down the hillsides of this city, right into the heart of the tourist neighbourhoods.

The policy was known as pacification. Favela residents say the authorities' tactics in getting rid of crime have been particularly brutal.

Police flooded the favelas and the violence there subsided. But, recently, it's been ticking up again amid headlines that pacification has hit a wall.

Katty and Mayor Eduardo Paes in control room
The BBC's Katty Kay and Mayor Eduardo Paes in the city of Rio de Janeiro's control centre

In a few days, you only get snapshots of a city. It would be absurd to suggest that a scant week can let you understand a country as huge and complicated as Brazil. The favela I visited seemed calm.

I walked through it to visit a family who lived there, and I didn't feel any tension. But as we left, we got news that there had just been a two-hour gun battle in another favela, which shut down the whole area.

On top of more protests this month, it adds to a sense of uncertainty.

And residents of Rio's smarter areas told me repeatedly that they feel there's been a spike in crime recently. They say the violence simply shifted - when the police clamped down on the favelas the drug gangs moved into town to make their living picking pockets of wealthier residents.

Conscious that foreign tourists are already a little nervous about Rio's reputation for violence, the authorities here are expected to flood tourist areas with police during the World Cup.

The mayor admitted that his city still has a lot of security problems, but he insists visitors will be safe here.

Rio is gearing up for a long stint in the spotlight.

Nobody here can be totally confident that it will all run smoothly.

But when the sun shines in this spectacular, fun-loving city, it's hard not believe that it won't at least be a great party.