Rio de Janeiro (AFP) – It is revered as a temple of the beautiful game — but the footballing gods have forsaken Brazil’s legendary Maracana stadium after the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics.
The grass of the pitch is yellowing, the stands are rusting and thieves have stolen seats — symptoms of a legal mess that have left this Rio de Janeiro landmark abandoned.
Rio is a largely impoverished city, many of whose inhabitants live for football. But they cannot watch games in its greatest stadium in its current state of disrepair.
The two top teams that share it, Flamengo and Fluminense, will have to find alternative venues to play when the league season starts next week.
First opened in 1950, the 79,000-seat Maracana was renovated ahead of the 2014 World Cup for $372 million — twice the initial budget — in a project tainted by corruption allegations.
The stadium glittered just four months ago during the summer Olympics as Rio was the center of the sporting world’s attention.
Now the electricity has been cut off.
“This situation is very worrying. Each day the stadium deteriorates a bit more,” said Eduardo Bandeira, Flamengo’s president.
– Business quarrel –
The various entities involved in running and using the stadium disagree over who should be handling the maintenance.
The private consortium Maracana SA ceded the stadium to the organizers of the Olympic Games for eight months up to October 30 last year.
Maracana SA is owned by Odebrecht, a giant Brazilian firm whose executives have been jailed in a huge corruption scandal also implicating Brazilian politicians.
Maracana SA said in a statement that it has “not yet taken back possession of the stadium,” alleging that the 2016 Olympics organizing committee “has not fulfilled its commitment to return it in the state in which it received it.”
Rio 2016 communications director Mario Andrada for his part claimed the committee had left the stadium in “better conditions than when it received it.”
He said the committee had been “forced to carry out maintenance work that should have been done” by Maracana SA.
He admitted that the stadium still “needs some minor repairs” but claimed that the committee has until the end of January to carry them out.
– Stadium ‘taken hostage’ –
Andrada accused the company of “taking the Maracana hostage in order to humiliate the (Rio) state government and apply pressure to be permitted to sell off the stadium.”
After taking over the running of the stadium, the company fell out with the debt-ridden state government which prohibited it from carrying out certain building projects around the stadium.
The company has taken legal action to rescind the contract it signed with the state authorities in 2013.
A court last Friday ordered Maracana SA to resume maintenance of the stadium immediately. The consortium said it would appeal.
– Potential buyers –
Two international groups are meanwhile in the running to buy up the stadium, but authorities say the firms still have not provided all the necessary paperwork.
One is a consortium of French company GL Events with Britain’s CSM and Dutch firm Amsterdam Arena.
The other is a partnership between French firm Lagardere and BWA of Brazil.
The Flamengo president says he prefers the former of the two suitors.
“We have had serious problems with BWA. It was responsible for selling tickets for our games in the past,” he says.
“There is no way we are going to play in the Maracana if those thieves take over running the stadium.”
Tourists have to settle for taking photos outside the Maracana’s entrance since the inside is closed to visitors.
The Rio de Janeiro Football Federation says thieves have stolen televisions, fire extinguishers and even seats from the venue.
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