Brasília (AFP) – Brazilian striker Gabriel “Gabigol” Barbosa was arrested early Sunday with some 200 other people at a clandestine Sao Paulo casino found to be flouting coronavirus distancing rules, state authorities said.
Health inspectors and police were alerted to a large gathering at the illegal establishment in the rich Vila Olimpia neighborhood.
On arrival, they witnessed people “flagrantly consuming alcohol, violating social distancing rules and without wearing masks,” the Sao Paulo authority said in a statement.
Gabigol, 24, was brought to a police station and released after signing a document promising to return to give testimony, it added.
The young athlete, who plays for both the Rio de Janeiro team Flamengo and the national team, played down the incident in an interview with Globonews.
“I don’t usually gamble,” he said. “I was with my friends and we went to eat.”
He said he always wears a mask, and had been moving to leave the casino — after seeing how crowded it was — when the police arrived.
A spokesman for his popular Rio de Janeiro club, league champions in 2020, told AFP the incident would be “dealt with internally.”
Police official Eduardo Brotero told GloboNews the athlete was at “a rather large underground casino” where “many people crowded together, exposed to contagion” with the coronavirus.
Videos provided by the authorities showed the player known simply as Gabigol escorted away by police. He was dressed in a white shirt and black cap and wearing a facemask.
The state of Sao Paulo has been in a “red” alert since March 6 due to a coronavirus uptick, with the closure of parks, bars, restaurants, museums and non-essential shops.
The pandemic has killed more than 277,000 people in Brazil — second only to the United States. It has recorded 11.4 million infections.
Sao Paulo is the hardest-hit state, with nearly 64,000 deaths, and will impose even stricter curbs Monday, with churches closed, sports events canceled, and a nightly curfew.
The managers of the casino will be investigated for crimes against public health and violating the ban on such establishments, said Brotero.
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