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Unhappy clubs allowed to sit out Brazilian football restart

Rio de Janeiro (AFP) – The two clubs who most strongly opposed the resumption of the Rio football championship, Fluminense and Botafogo, will be allowed to sit the competition out, mayor Marcelo Crivella has announced.

In a video sent out on Saturday by one of his staff, Crivella said: “Basically, Fluminense and Botafogo’s matches are suspended, and we ask for everyone’s understanding”.

The Campeonato Carioca, the football tournament in the state of Rio de Janeiro, became the first South American competition to return after a coronavirus shutdown with two matches on Friday.

Flamengo, the Copa Libertadores holders and reigning Brazilian league champions, beat Bangu 3-0. Portuguesa and Boavista drew 0-0. 

While Bangu was, in theory, the home team, the match was played at Flamengo’s home stadium, the Maracana, site of one of Rio de Janeiro’s coronavirus field hospitals.

The restart, the first in Brazil’s state leagues, was made possible by Crivella relaxing lockdown rules in the city.

Supporters of both clubs, as well as fans of Fluminense, which also plays at the Maracana, and Botafogo were among those protesting outside the stadium before the match, saying the authorities were putting lives at risk.

Fluminense and Botafogo, two of Rio’s big four, were opposed to playing again and went to court to request a suspension of the league at least until July. The two clubs, who had not yet returned to training, were due to play their first game next Monday, and another match three days later. 

Earlier on Saturday, the Rio de Janeiro State Football Federation had said that if the clubs chose not to play their match, they would be considered as lost 3-0. 

Crivella said in his statement that the public decree on the resumption of football would be adjusted to acknowledge that the two clubs would not be playing.

With nearly 48,000 people killed by the virus so far, Brazil has the second-highest death toll in the world, after the United States, and the number of cases continues rising steeply.

Rio de Janeiro is the second-most affected Brazilian state, just behind Sao Paulo, with 95,537 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 8,824 deaths.

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