Sao Caetano search for justice in Maracana

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The Independent Online

Eighteen days ago, crowd disturbance and a collapsing fence injured more than 150 people and caused the second leg of the Brazilian championship final to be suspended. Tomorrow, at the bizarre weekday kick-off time of 4pm, Vasco da Gama and Second Division São Caetano do battle once more.

Eighteen days ago, crowd disturbance and a collapsing fence injured more than 150 people and caused the second leg of the Brazilian championship final to be suspended. Tomorrow, at the bizarre weekday kick-off time of 4pm, Vasco da Gama and Second Division São Caetano do battle once more.

Rather than in Vasco's rickety São Januário stadium, the re-run takes place in the nearby Maracaña, much bigger and safer. Some of the players from the original match have already moved on to new clubs. But the authorities sanctioned their return for this one game - as if the hands of time were being turned back to 30 December 2000.

But Brazilian football has moved into a new century since the disaster of São Januário. Only by a miracle was there no loss of life, and the horrific scenes at such a showpiece event are provoking changes in the country's football-watching culture.

An inspection of São Januário found rusty, corroding fences, unsecured seating and a terrace structure full of holes. Other grounds were then visited, and similar irregularities uncovered. Brazil's Justice Minister, José Gregori, took a personal interest and declared - along with an alcohol ban - the end of standing room at Brazilian stadia.

Eventually Gregori would like to see the installation of individual seats. In the short term, all that is likely to happen is the chalking of seat marks and numbers on the concrete terracing. At least, in theory anyway, this should put a stop to the massive overcrowding that proved so dangerous on 30 December.

With average attendances of around 11,000, overcrowding is not an everyday problem in Brazilian football. Such apathy in a football-crazy country has a great deal to do with the ineptitude of those who run the game. Their behaviour since the disaster has shown clearly where their priorities lie, and why many of them are under investigation by a Congressional Commission of Inquiry.

The regulations would seem to be clear; a suspension of the match in Vasco's stadium and involving Vasco's supporters should have seen the points, and in this case the Championship, awarded to São Caetano. But this would lay Vasco open to lawsuits based on a new but growing area in Brazilian life - consumer rights. People had paid to see the final, but the spectacle had been interrupted after 23 minutes. However, those who had been in the ground had no ticket stubs as proof of purchase. So, decided representatives of the major clubs, there would be a new game and it would have to be for free. The original proposal was for the gates to be thrown open - an idea of limitless stupidity in the wake of a disaster caused by overcrowding.

The High Court of the sports justice system met the following day, and sensibly decided that, although entry would still be free, tickets would be issued to the clubs for distribution before the day of the game. Their legal justification for staging the new game was flimsy in the extreme: in his match report, the referee had made no mention of overcrowding in São Januário. Playing the rematch tomorrow means the game will be over and done with before the publication of the engineers' report, which will almost certainly blame Vasco for the events of 30 December and therefore remove the legal basis for the new game.

São Caetano have been wronged, but can expect a prize for taking their medicine. There is no provision for promotion in this championship, so despite reaching the final, the club were set to stay in the Second Division. Suddenly, in return for not kicking up a fuss, there is talk of accommodating them in the First.

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