Rio de Janeiro’s legendary Maracana stadium, built for the 1950 World Cup, lies in a state of semi-ruin six months after the 2016 Rio Olympics, a product of a dispute between the firm that owns the stadium and the Rio 2016 committee.
According to CNN, which published a report on the state of Maracana this week, “the browning pitch has been invaded by worms, several windows and doors have been broken or damaged and nearly 10% of the stadium’s 78,000 seats are missing.” Looters have raided the stadium, taking anything valuable from the lockers and entry areas, from memorabilia to surveillance television monitors.
The decay appears to vindicate concerns Brazilian protesters vocalized when then-president Dilma Rousseff announced plans to invest millions in public funds in restoring the Maracana stadium for use in both the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games: that the public would lose funds needed for education and security and the sports infrastructure would immediately lose its value following the games.
According to a January report by ESPN, the major reason for the stadium’s rapid decay is a dispute between Maracana SA, the subsidiary of the giant Brazilian conglomerate Odebrecht that owns the stadium, and the Rio 2016 Olympic Committee. The latter, Maracana SA argues, had a contractual responsibility to return the stadium to its stewardship in the condition in which it was handed over. The Rio Committee breached that obligation, Maracana SA contends.
A Maracana SA representative tells CNN that they are most concerned with regaining control of the stadium in its current state because much of the decay is an active threat to spectators, should the corporation stage any events there. “What we are most concerned about is the safety of the people who are coming to Maracana and we need to make sure things, like the stadium’s roof, weren’t compromised,” spokesperson Daelcio de Freitas said.
While the Olympic Committee assumes some responsibility for repairs, it has also argued in court that some of the damage Maracana SA claims it is responsible for was already present when the Rio Committee took stewardship of the stadium in March. The Brazilian newspaper O Globo reported in March that the committee had commissioned two separate consulting firms to assess the repairs needed in the stadium. The reports concluded that damage present includes loose matter near the roof constructed on the stadium for the Opening Ceremonies, which the committee has dismissed as “not presenting[ing an] imminent risk” to potential spectators.
As of January 26, the stadium does not have electricity, as neither the committee nor Maracana SA have agreed to pay electrical bills, allowing a nearly million-dollar electrical bill to accrue.
A Rio de Janeiro Court found on January 13 that Maracana SA must immediately resume control of the stadium, but an appeal tied the injunction up in court. The corporation “signaled that it would be possible to reopen the stadium for the final phases of the Guanabara Cup,” according to O Globo, set to begin on February 25.
The saga that has plunged Maracana, a bastion of soccer history for decades before the Olympics, into ruin, is an epilogue compatible with the worst-case scenarios protesters argued were possible since Rousseff announced her plans to impose two major international sporting events on the country. In 2013, hundreds of thousands of Brazilians protested both sporting events in what was called at the time the nation’s “largest protests in 20 years.”
Shortly before the World Cup, some of Brazil’s most famous soccer personalities objected to the organization of the event. Soccer star Ronaldo, who was on the World Cup organizational committee, admitted to being ashamed at the pace of infrastructure development in 2014: “My shame is for the people, who were hoping for major investments, that’s the great legacy of the Cup for us. They were expecting a lot and they’re the ones most hurt by the situation.”
Pelé, Brazil’s biggest soccer star and considered by many the greatest player in history, called World Cup preparations an “embarrassment.”
At the time, Dilma Rousseff said there was “no reason to be ashamed” and “it is absurd to claim that money used for stadiums compromises education in Brazil.”
By the time the Rio Olympics Opening Ceremonies began, Rousseff had been impeached for illegally misrepresenting the nation’s economic status in such as way as to lure unsuspecting foreign investors. That did not stop the protesters, however.
Tens of thousands of protesters took over Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo, and other major cities to protest the lack of basic necessities at police stations, like stationary and toilet paper, due to a financial crisis worsened by Olympics expenditures. “Welcome to Hell – police and firefighters don’t get paid,” read signs police officers held up in protest in Rio de Janeiro’s airport. Local politicians joined in. “Enjoy the Olympic games, because we are paying a high price for it!” local official Case Carvalho said during a rally against the Olympics.