Turning 70, iconic Maracanã stadium is stage for Covid-19 football dispute

maracanã field hospital
Photo: PRJ

On June 16, 1950, the Estádio Jornalista Mário Filho opened its doors for the first time to host a football match between select sides from Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. Better known as the Maracanã, the huge stadium in Rio de Janeiro soon became known as the Temple of Football, hosting two World Cups, as well as events at the 2016 Olympics.

However, the historic stadium is celebrating its 70th anniversary with its doors closed, hosting its last match in mid-March, when football was suspended in Brazil due to the coronavirus pandemic. The grounds outside of the Maracanã were even transformed into a Covid-19 field hospital, receiving patients from around the city.

Despite the 7,728 recorded Covid-19 deaths in the state of Rio de Janeiro, football may return to the Maracanã as early as next week. The local football federation, with the support of major clubs Flamengo and Vasco da Gama, are keen to finish the Rio de Janeiro state championship, interrupted on the home stretch by the Covid-19 crisis. With the state still in the throes of the epidemic, matches have been scheduled to restart on Thursday.

Fluminense and Botafogo, Rio de Janeiro’s other two major clubs, have promised to take the local football association to court and will refuse to play. Meanwhile, Vasco and Flamengo have been back in training for weeks, with the former having 16 first-team players diagnosed with Covid-19.

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