The World Cup was less than 48 hours away and vuvuzelas and jerseys were flying off the shelves. Fans and reporters were streaming into South Africa, a country that had never before hosted such a large sporting event.
One such person was Antonio Simoes. A photographer for the Portuguese daily O Jogo, Simoes was staying at a hotel 75 miles northwest of Johannesburg. Early on the morning of June 9, 2010, as the AP later reported, Simoes was suddenly awakened by two men entering his hotel room.
The intruders wasted no time in getting down to business. They put a gun to the photographer's head and, in less than two minutes, had gathered up his cameras, lenses, laptop, and left him lying in bed. They also made off with his passport and media credentials. In all, the equipment they stole was valued at around $35,000.
The plight of Simoes, unfortunately, is far from unusual. It's widely known that tourists and other foreigners frequently make easy targets for petty criminals -- especially during big, international events.
But his story also offers up a lesson and a reminder for sponsors and travelers.
For that reason, it's time to take a look at the health and safety aspects of the next large, international sporting event -- the 2013 Confederations Cup in Brazil. The matches, which begin on June 15 and run through the end of the month, will be viewed widely as a full dress rehearsal for the South American nation as it gears up to host the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympic Games.
For those traveling to Brazil for this year's Confederations Cup, first, it's important to keep in mind those general travel tips which should be followed wherever you go. These are tips like advance planning, ensuring you can stay connected to folks back home, monitoring your health, staying safe on the road, and being vigilant when it comes to crime.
Those things never change.
That said, here are a few points to keep in mind, as they specifically relate to Brazil and the areas where the Confederations Cup matches will take place.
It's important to note that there will be a huge influx of people over an expansive geographic range -- in many areas that aren't accustomed to so much international traffic. This could lead to a number of health issues.
In this respect, it's important to understand that health care quality varies considerably across Brazil -- and each region has its own challenges. For example, those attending matches in Rio de Janeiro will have access to world-class health care. Some facilities in Rio even have English-speaking staff. But that's not the case in many parts of the country, including Fortaleza, where matches will take place at the Castelão. In northeast Brazil, travelers will find less infrastructure and even fewer English speakers. If you find yourself in the hospital -- which will most likely be public -- unless you have a Portuguese speaker with you, it could be problematic.
Likewise, travelers often underestimate the sheer size of Brazil if they've never been -- and a place like Fortaleza is actually a four-hour flight to Rio. It's not a good idea for those unfamiliar with Brazil's roads and driving habits to rent a vehicle and drive themselves. Flying is the safest way to travel between matches, and tickets are likely to be expensive, so plan accordingly.
It's also essential to prepare for tropical diseases, as much of Brazil will be hot and humid during this time of year. These are less of an issue in places like Rio and Salvador, but if one ventures off the beaten path in the north -- around Fortaleza or Recife -- malaria and yellow fever become a risk.
Always remember -- the more remote you are, the more vulnerable to diseases you become. So have plenty of your prescription drugs on hand and always carry a copy of your personal data.
At sporting events like the Confederations Cup, there will always be hooligans and there will always be petty crime. To put another way, there will always be folks looking to take advantage of naïve fans. So attendees must be vigilant.
Always be aware of your surroundings. Vary your routes as you walk to and from your hotel. Always keep your hotel door secured. And in public, it's a good idea to be cautious around overly friendly strangers. For example, never accept drinks from strangers in a bar -- as you don't want to get drugged.
The soccer matches will be closely guarded and controlled by security forces, but large crowds around other festivals may not be so secure. You should also avoid any spontaneous celebrations that could develop. If approached and demands made for your wallet, purse, cash or other valuables, give up the items. Do not carry anything that you can't afford to lose.
"Express kidnappings" are more prevalent in urban areas of Brazil. These are kidnappings where the perpetrators hustle the victim into a car and demand a ransom for his or her safe return or, more commonly, drive the victim to a number of ATMs seeking fast cash. Usually, the victim is left unharmed -- though that's not always the case.
Always be aware that this could occur, and never forget that, as a tourist, you are easily recognized as a potential target.
Lastly, remember that security is ultimately your responsibility.
The purpose of this article isn't to dissuade fans from traveling to Brazil for the Confederations Cup or to make them paranoid. Brazil is a wonderful country and I have been many times myself. Likewise, these risks are common globally.
But for those travelers who might not be as seasoned or as savvy, these tips can make the difference between a great experience and one you'll never forget -- for the wrong reasons -- as Antonio Simoes learned during the 2010 World Cup.
Robert L. Quigley, MD, D.Phil., is the Regional Medical Director, Americas Region, for International SOS, an international healthcare, medical assistance, and security services company.