June 18 – What Flamengo wants, Flamengo gets. The Brazilian champions have pressed on with ‘Project Restart’ for weeks and on Thursday they will play Bangu at the Maracana in the Carioca championship after the city’s mayor green-lighted the resumption of play.
Brazilian football went into hibernation in March due to the outbreak of the coronavirus, but its return after a three-month hiatus could not be in more acrimonious fashion with locals clubs squabbling and the reigning domestic champions pushing on for a restart in the middle of a deadly pandemic.
No fans will be allowed at the Maracana, but Rio’s mayor Marcelo Crivella gave the go-ahead but in a concession to dissenting clubs asked the state football federation to not punish clubs that were refusing to play on health and safety grounds.
He said: “Our appeal is that the clubs who think they shouldn’t return are not punished, the opening phase is not obligatory. If a player that is obliged to return turns up tomorrow with COVID-19 and dies then people are going to say, we came back too soon.”
The players of Fluminense issued a powerful statement explaining why they don’t want to play. It read: “We are still in a scenario with a lot of daily fatalities in the city and in other regions of the countries as well. So, evidently, we don’t feel comfortable putting even more lives at risk. From the start of this situation, we fought for football to return at the right moment.”
Botafogo is also refusing to play. On social media Keisuke Honda, the club’s new marquee signing, questioned football’s return. “Am I crazy that I want to know a logical reason why we restart the league?” he asked.
Both Fluminense and Botafogo said they will go to court. It is unclear how the championship can proceed without the commitment of the two clubs. The state federation scheduled matches for both clubs on Monday, but the expectation is that neither club will take to the field.
Flamengo has been the main advocate for a quick restart, even if rights-holder TV Globo will not be broadcasting the club’s matches in the Carioca championship due to a rights dispute. The club fears that the shutdown will keep sponsors away because of a lack of exposure. Further delays will also push back further the start of the far more lucrative national championship, which had been due to kick off at the start of April.
In May, Flamengo broke quarantine by returning to their training complex, the Ninho de Urubu, defying local health measures.
Honda’s question, however, resonates. Brazil’s coronavirus death toll is second only to the United States with over 46,500 fatalities according to the latest data from the Johns Hopkins University. Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, the country’s biggest two cities, have been hit hardest. In Sao Paulo, clubs will not be allowed to train before July 1.
Contact the writer of this story, Samindra Kunti, at moc.l1611687525labto1611687525ofdlr1611687525owedi1611687525sni@o1611687525fni1611687525