Judge orders covid-conflicted Flamengo to play as virus rips through club

By Samindra Kunti

September 28 – Flamengo became the villains in their own pantomime on Sunday when a federal court forced the club to play their top-flight game against Palmeiras after it had obtained a suspension due to the risk of coronavirus infection from a lower court.

Brasilia-based labour judge Luiz Philippe Vieira de Mello Filho argued that the Rio court had “exceeded the limits of its jurisdiction” because Palmeiras was hosting the match in Sao Paulo and he proceeded to overturn injunctions to allow the match to proceed. His ruling came only minutes before kick-off.

It was the latest twist in a saga that is increasingly casting a shadow over Flamengo, one of Brazil’s most storied clubs and biggest sporting institutions. The Rio club sided with Brazil’s far-right president Jair Bolsonaro for football to restart even if the coronavirus pandemic hadn’t peaked yet in the country, broke quarantine rules to train and played at the Maracana next to a field hospital for coronavirus patients in the state championship.

In recent weeks, the club has also been pushing for fans to be allowed at stadiums again, but Flamengo were given a stern reality check when seven of their players tested positive before their Copa Libertadores match against Barcelona in Ecuador last week.

They were also the subject of fierce criticism when pictures emerged of players socialising on the flight home without face masks. By the time Flamengo had regrouped for the weekend fixture in the domestic league away to Palmeiras, the squad had been hit by a massive coronavirus outbreak that also affected club president Rodolfo Landim and coach Domenec Torrent.

Suddenly, Flamengo no longer saw the need for football to continue at all costs and got the game against their Sao Paulo rivals suspended in a local court. But the Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF) appealed the decision arguing that the outbreak at Flamengo was “an isolated incident that cannot be attributed to the Brazilian Football Championship.”

Other clubs also expressed their dismay at Flamengo’s legal course of action. Corinthians president Andres Sanchez tweeted: “The biggest problem with football is when a club only thinks about itself and nothing else. To suspend a game is to suspend the protocol that everyone has agreed to. It’s better to halt the entire championship then.”

Flamengo went on to get a surprise 1-1 draw in Sao Paulo, but the match was an indictment of the club’s policies and the Brazilian game at large with the boundaries of a healthy approach to the sport being pushed to the limits. Brazil has the second-highest death toll in the coronavirus pandemic with more than 140,000 people killed and 4.7 million infected.

Contact the writer of this story, Samindra Kunti, at moc.l1603324639labto1603324639ofdlr1603324639owedi1603324639sni@o1603324639fni1603324639