There are growing concerns surrounding the viability of England’s prestigious friendly against Brazil going ahead in Rio de Janeiro this summer after the city’s Olympic Stadium was closed indefinitely amid fears the roof could collapse.
England are due to play Brazil in the refurbished Maracana Stadium in Rio on 2 June but it is still undergoing major building work and is unlikely to meet its 27 April completion deadline. Reports in Rio suggest it will not be finished until 25 May – just days before England are scheduled to play in front of 77,000 fans. The Olympic Stadium, which was built in 2007, would have offered an ideal fall-back if the Maracana is not ready but the Mayor of Rio, Eduardo Paes, ordered its immediate closure because of structural problems with the roof.
Fifa is due to take over the Maracana on 27 May for this summer’s Confederations Cup, interrupting England’s preparations for the friendly. The April deadline was supposed to allow time to stage a test event before England arrive and any delay into May will raise questions over whether an adequate test can be conducted. If completion is delayed the England game may have to be used as one of the test events in front of a reduced capacity crowd.
The Football Association has an agreement with the Brazilian football federation to play the match in Rio – the venue was never specified – and would be reluctant to see a switch to another city, such as Sao Paulo.
The match forms part of the celebrations to mark the FA’s 150th anniversary but more importantly provides Roy Hodgson and his side with a chance to try out the accommodation and training centre earmarked for their use if qualification for next year’s finals is safely negotiated.
Rio’s other major stadium is Estadio Sao Januario, the ageing home of Vasco da Gama. But that has a capacity of only 25,000 and is rarely used to stage major fixtures – it is unlikely that it would be able to host an international match. Vasco have played most of their big games, including the Rio derbies, at the Maracana and then the Olympic Stadium, which has also been used by Botafogo as their home ground.
The Maracana’s £377m upgrade – the budget has risen dramatically as the delays have lengthened – was supposed to be finished before Christmas but has fallen further and further behind schedule. A fall-back date in February was also missed.
Just two weeks ago, ministers in Rio insisted it would meet the 27 April deadline. Any visitor to the stadium would have found that an optimistic target and within days reports emerged suggesting that late May was the probable completion date. Work is now under way on the site 20 hours a day. The pitch is already in place – the turf was laid two weeks ago.
The project has been dogged by industrial disputes and disagreements between city, state and federal authorities over who would foot the bill. Even the Brazilian weather has hindered progress – heavy rain last month delayed work and prevented a Fifa inspection.
Fifa has previously expressed concern at the slow pace of building work at a number of the stadiums that will host games in the Confederations Cup. The final is scheduled for the Maracana on 30 June, while two group games, Italy versus Mexico and Spain against Tahiti, will also be staged there.
The Olympic Stadium was originally built for the 2007 Pan American Games and has since been used largely for football. It is due to hold the athletics events at the 2016 Olympic Games.
Today the authorities admitted they have been aware of a potential problem with the roof ever since the stadium was built. Mayor Paes said: “I asked them if these problems posed a threat to fans and the answer was ‘Yes’, depending on circumstances such as wind velocity and temperature.
“The stadium will stay closed for an undetermined period. If they give me a solution that will last a month, then it will stay closed for a month; if it takes a year, it will stay closed for a year. I will wait until a definitive solution if presented. We can’t play with something like this.”
Organisers of the Rio Games insist the problem will be solved in ample time for 2016.
Grounds for concern: Rio’s stadiums
* Estadio do Maracana
Capacity 78,838 [rising to 85,000].
Currently being renovated at a cost of £377m and will host next year’s World Cup final. Previously staged Frank Sinatra concert.
* Estadio Olimpico do Rio
Capacity 46,931 [increasing to 60,000 for 2016 Olympics]
Has hosted concerts by Paul McCartney and Justin Bieber. Renovations will cost £125m.
* Estadio Sao Januario
Owned by football club Vasco da Gama and still the biggest privately owned stadium in the city. The run-down venue has long been in need of an upgrade.