Rio restarts football league next to COVID hospital

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) – In a sign of the times, the first professional football match in South America in nearly three months was staged in a stadium only metres away from a field hospital for hundreds of patients of COVID-19.

Copa Libertadores champion Flamengo beat Bangu 3-0 in a local league game that was witnessed by fewer than 200 people in Brazil’s historic 78,000-seat Maracanã Stadium on Thursday night.

More than 47,700 people have died because of the new coronavirus in Brazil, and nearly one million have been infected. Rio de Janeiro state accounts for about 8,000 deaths, but authorities agreed to let football return this week after the number of available intensive-care unit beds showed slight improvement. Health experts predict Brazil’s COVID-19 crisis will peak in August.

Goals by Giorgian de Arrascaeta in the 18th minute, Bruno Henrique, in the 66th, and Pedro Rocha in the 88th were celebrated with fist bumps.

Near the Maracanã’s gate 2, a field hospital with 400 beds for coronavirus patients reminded the small group of people at the stadium why many health experts think it is too soon for football competition to resume. A minute of silence was observed before kick off in a sign of respect to victims of COVID-19.

Rio football authorities did not allow mixed zone interviews with players after the match, also following health recommendations. But Flamengo coach Jorge Jesus spoke via video after the match.

“Our society will have to adapt until we have a vaccine. What is important is to know how to live, respect the virus, but have no fear of it,” the Flemengo coach said. “Football teams have the privilege of being constantly tested and working outdoors. Flamengo is working safely.”

Flamengo players arrived wearing masks, and appeared to be excited to be back. They have practised for three weeks, some days against recommendations.

Bangu football team goalkeeper Luciano gestures at the Carioca Championship 2020 football match against Flamengo. PHOTO: AFP