Mass protests and the brutal decapitation of a soccer referee do not inspire confidence that Brazil can keep athletes and fans safe during the 2014 World Soccer Cup and 2016 Olympic Games.

Winning the right to host these international events is an acknowledgment of Brazil’s political and economic progress. But recent unrest has raised legitimate questions about the nation’s ability to handle protests and violent sports fans as it plans to welcome thousands of visitors from the United States and other countries.

The protests were sparked by mass-transit fare increases last month, which added to the public’s general frustration with corruption, high taxes and poor government services.

President Dilma Rousseff responded by meeting with protesters and promising a referendum on proposed reforms, including public financing for elections, ending secret legislative votes and making government more transparent. But members of her own political coalition have tried to postpone a vote.

The government has made some progress by imposing harsher penalties for corruption, and most cities have reduced transit fares. But it is moving less quickly on demands that it devote a high percentage of oil royalties to education and health care.

At the recent Confederations Cup tournament, a prequalifying event for the World Cup, police kept order at the Maracana Stadium outside Rio de Janeiro. But fans reported the smell of tear gas from nearby clashes. Some protesters were angered by the billions of dollars the nation is spending to prepare for the marquee sporting events while its economy sags and services lag.

Meanwhile, on June 30, a referee stabbed a soccer player to death during a dispute over a call at a game in the northern state of Maranhao. The crowd then swarmed the referee, cut off his head, arms and legs, and put the head on a spike in the field, according to investigating officers.

Brazilian officials have tried to downplay the bloody rampage and protests. But if they want their economy to receive the shot in the arm that hosting the World Cup and Olympics could provide, they must dispel the belief that Brazil is a very dangerous country that tourists should spend as little time in as possible.

From an editorial in the Philadelphia Inquirer