Rio's unruly beaches taste "shock of order"

Wed Dec 16, 2009 12:56pm EST
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By Stuart Grudgings

RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - One minute Victor Javier was rapt in a carefree game of beach soccer; the next he was a hapless victim of Rio de Janeiro's "shock of order" crackdown.

Two city guards in crisp uniforms marched across the sands and ordered Javier and his friend to stop their game, a "keep-up" between several players that is much loved by Rio beach-goers.

"It's ridiculous. No one's here, it's a public beach," said Javier, wearing swimming trunks and gesturing at the near-empty section of beach on a recent afternoon.

No matter. Under rules aimed at bringing order to Rio's famous beaches, ball games are among the undesirable activities being curtailed or banned as the city that will host a World Cup and Olympics within seven years seeks to clean up its act.

But the shock of order policy is running into resistance on Rio's sands, amid worries that it will kill the soul and spontaneity of beaches like Ipanema and Copacabana, which have been celebrated in many a samba and bossa nova song.

Up to 2 million people pack Rio's beaches on a sunny day, bringing together high society and slum dwellers in an otherwise sharply divided city.

"The beach is the most democratic place in Rio -- everyone from the son of a banker to the robber of a bank can come here and play ball together," said Javier's friend, 26-year-old civil engineer Renato Franca.

The beach is just the latest target of a city-wide campaign to bring order to Rio, where traffic and other rules are often seen as optional. Though in place for nearly a year, the effort gained urgency with Rio's selection as 2016 Olympic host.   Continued...

<p>Beach-goers play with a soccer ball on Ipanema beach in Rio de Janeiro November 22, 2009. REUTERS/Sergio Moraes</p>