The City of Rio de Janeiro woke up on Tuesday morning to the brutal murder of a former footballer. Joao Rodrigo Silva Santos, 35, was reported missing by his wife at around 9 p.m. on Monday.
The following morning, she found his head on the doorstep of their home in a rucksack. His eyes and tongue had been cut out in an apparent gang execution, as reported by Metro's Suthentira Govender.
The sheer brutality of the killing has sent the city into rewind. The edgy perception of Rio de Janeiro has gradually been lifting as the city's government strived to cleanse its image prior to hosting the World Cup, which will include the final at the Maracana.
The installation of UP police units in the favelas that tower above the city has helped wrest power back from drug lords who presided over the hilltop shanty towns as if they were separate from the rest of the city.
Contrasting reports are pouring out of Rio as the city goes into overdrive on theories concerning the killing. Friends of Mr. Santos have told myself and other local reporters he had no enemies and his assassination has caused bewilderment.
But there is a growing sentiment that it could be due to his wife's occupation in the São Carlos favela, located in North Rio. She reportedly worked with the police in helping depose of drug dealers, and her husband could have paid the price for her endeavors.
The story has been picked up around the world at a time when the planet's media attention is on Brazil in the run-up to its hosting of the World Cup in June and July next year. On a smaller scale, the Realengo neighborhood is no stranger to violence.
Two and a half years ago, 24-year-old Wellington Menezes de Oliveira shot 12 children dead at a school in the area.
Nor is it even the first killing there this week. Last Thursday (Oct. 25), seven people were shot dead in a house believed to be being used as a drug den.
These stories fit an unfortunate stereotype which the city was gradually moving away from. But despite the emergence of such horror stories, come the World Cup next year, there are many who believe incidents such as these won't have a profound effect on tourism.
“I don't know if it [the murder] will affect tourism," said Italian sports journalist Marco Mugnaioli. "The World Cup is a big event and everyone wants to go. Brazil is a beautiful country despite stories like this.”
It may, however, affect the type of tourist that decides to come to Brazil to witness football's greatest tournament, with families unlikely to take young children.
This is the second high-profile murder to be connected to football in the last four months. In July, in the Northeastern State of Maranhao, a referee was murdered by angry football fans. The referee, Otavio da Silva, is reported to have stabbed a player for refusing to leave the pitch.
A group of fans then stormed the pitch, stoning da Silva to death before severing his head. The player he stabbed died on his way to hospital.
Threats of violence towards footballers is nothing new in Brazil. Brazilians are more devoted to their hometown club than the national team, and greater passion can be seen during domestic disputes than international tournaments.
Players at top Brazilian clubs, particularly Corinthians and Flamengo, the country's two most well-supported clubs, are constantly under pressure from groups of organized fans known as “torcida organizada.”
Former Corinthians player Viola was famously attacked in 1988 for throwing his shirt to the ground and kicking it upon being substituted.
But this murder reeks of a deeper social problem that needs a long-term solution. There will be the inevitable calls and clamor to withdraw the World Cup from a country people perceive to be riddled with violence. Yet that wouldn't provide a suitable answer to longstanding problems in Rio de Janeiro and beyond.
Such issues are in desperate need of attention in countries like Brazil and South Africa, the last nation to host the World Cup, where the divide between wealth and social status is crippling.
Simply not allowing the country to host international tournaments misses the point entirely in terms of what needs to be done to achieve a more balanced society.
Whilst this kind of violence cannot be ignored, hosting major events brings it to an infinitely greater audience. Ultimately, it is for Brazil to solve and not for FIFA to decide whether it merits hosting a sports tournament based on social inequality.
All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.
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