Thu, Oct 29, 2015 - Page 18 News List

Brasilia might not host Rio Olympics’ soccer matches


Spectators and players sing national anthems before the start of the World Cup third-place playoff match between Brazil and the Netherlands at the Mane Garrincha National Stadium in Brasilia on July 12 last year.

Photo: Reuters

In the midst of Brazil’s deepening economic crisis, its cash-strapped capital might not have the money to fulfill a promise to host Olympic soccer games next year, leaving unused the most expensive stadium built for last year’s World Cup.

The Rio organizing committee has given Brasilia until the middle of next month to sign a contract or be stripped of the seven games set to be held there next year, a spokesperson said.

Tickets for matches in Brasilia have already been on sale for months and it remains unclear how fans, many of whom might have bought flights and booked hotels, would be reimbursed.

Soccer games for the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro next year are set to be played in six cities across the country to make use of venues built for the World Cup.

In Brasilia, officials are scrambling to draw up a management plan for the games, but say the debts inherited from the previous leftist governor have forced them to take tough decisions and commitment to the Olympics is uncertain.

The doubts about Brasilia’s ability to hold the matches are the latest reminder of how popular euphoria about the World Cup and the Rio Olympics has soured as Brazil has plunged into recession and financial straits.

“We are doing our homework now to see if we can sign this in time, but it’s not certain,” Brasilia Sports Secretary Leila Barros told reporters.

Under the terms of the Rio contract, the city bears the cost of hosting the matches, but the profits go to the organizing committee. In theory, the city is meant to recoup the costs through the benefit to the local economy, with hotels and restaurants enjoying an increase in business.

Brasilia’s 70,000-seat Mane Garrincha National Stadium is Brazil’s second-largest and cost taxpayers more than US$800 million to build at the time, a price tag that helped fuel violent protests in the buildup to the World Cup.

However, the city now struggles to cover the US$2.5 million it costs to maintain the venue per year, with the magnificent coliseum-like building hardly used and generating little revenue.

Built in a city with no soccer tradition or first division team, it has hosted less than a dozen professional games this year. During the World Cup, it was one of only two stadiums to host seven matches, including the third-fourth place playoff between Brazil and the Netherlands.

Since then, its biggest crowds have come to see concerts by Paul McCartney and Beyonce. This year it was used for a women’s forum by social groups and labor unions, a mass wedding ceremony put on by local police and a monster truck festival.

A plan to contract private investors to run the stadium as a concession and build restaurants, shops and a hotel on the site has found no takers.

Brasilia Governor Rodrigo Rollemberg had hoped the Olympics would be a chance to re-establish the stadium’s role as a sports venue instead of an entertainment center, aides said.

Rollemberg decided to go ahead with the matches earlier this year, committing the city to a plan initiated by his leftist predecessor, Agnelo Queiroz, a member of Brazil’s ruling Workers Party. Rollemberg did so against the advice of his economic advisors, according to Helio Doyle, who was involved in the decision as the governor’s chief of staff.

Doyle, who has since quit his role, said no study was done to see whether the city could recover the costs demanded by the organizing committee, such as providing hotels for athletes and vehicles with bilingual drivers.

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