Rio closes venue to be used for athletics in 2016
SAO PAULO -- Rio de Janeiro city officials have been forced to temporarily close the stadium that will be used for track and field at the 2016 Olympics because of structural problems with its roof.
Authorities said Tuesday that the Joao Havelange Stadium, known locally as the Engenhao, isn't safe to host public events until the problems are fixed.
Rio de Janeiro Mayor Eduardo Paes said he decided to close the venue immediately after constructors who have been monitoring the stadium's roof notified him of the structural problems.
"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," Paes said. "There was a risk, so I decided to close the stadium immediately until we have more details about the solution that we will need."
Paes said the extent of the threat was not fully known, but the decision was made based on three different reports which showed that the structural problems presented risks. A more complete analysis will take place before solutions can be considered.
"The stadium will stay closed for an undetermined period," the mayor said. "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."
Local Olympic organizers downplayed the possibility that the problem will affect the 2016 Rio Games, underlying that the event is still "years" away and that a solution will likely be found way ahead of the first Olympics in South America.
"The Rio 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Organizing Committee has full confidence that the city of Rio de Janeiro will take the necessary measures to guarantee that the Olympic Stadium is ready for the games more than three years from now, as well as for the test events before them," the organizing committee said in a statement.
Paes said officials will evaluate what caused the problem so those responsible can be held accountable. He said it could be an issue linked to the original project of the stadium.
The Engenhao has been the main Rio stadium since the Maracana closed for renovation ahead of the Confederations Cup and the 2014 World Cup. It will not host matches in those tournaments, but it could be used for training.
The stadium was being used for matches in the Rio state football championship and the Copa Libertadores, Latin America's most important club competition. Two matches in the Rio tournament which were scheduled for this week had to be transferred to the smaller Sao Januario Stadium.
There is still no decision on where to play the remaining matches of the Rio championship which were scheduled for the Engenhao, including the tournament's finals.
The stadium was built for the Pan American Games that Rio hosted in 2007 and cost a lot more than it was originally budgeted, prompting heavy criticism against local officials at the time. The final cost was about $200 million.
Rio de Janeiro club Botafogo took over the venue's administration after the Pan American Games and in 2009 it started using the name "Stadium Rio" for marketing purposes.
Rio authorities also were criticized for refusing to rename the venue after Havelange, the Brazilian official who presided FIFA for many years, was named by Swiss court documents published in 2012 as the recipient of millions of dollars in a World Cup kickback scandal in the 1990s. He paid a Swiss court about $550,000 to end a criminal investigation into alleged embezzlement.
The Engenhao is expected to be upgraded from a 46,000-capacity stadium to a 60,000-capacity venue for the Olympics, when temporary seating sections will be added.
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Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press
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