Questions, criticism of Brazil soccer club where 10 killed

  • Flamengo soccer fans gather on Saturday to honor the teenage players killed in a fire, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo)

RIO DE JANEIRO — Under mounting criticism Saturday, Brazilian soccer club Flamengo defended its management of the training ground where a fire killed 10 of its academy players — all between 14 and 16 years old — at a dormitory that had been registered with the city as a parking lot.

Rio de Janeiro’s city hall said in a statement that Flamengo was fined 31 times because of infractions at the Ninho do Urubu training ground, which had to be temporarily closed in October 2017. The club did not pay 21 of those fines.

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City hall also said the sleeping quarters where Flamengo’s players died was irregularly licensed as a parking lot.

“The lodging area hit by the fire is not included in the last project approved by our licensing,” it said. “There are no registers of new licensing requests for that area as a sleeping quarter.”

Three teenagers injured in the fire were still in the hospital, including one in serious condition.

Flamengo’s CEO Reinaldo Belotti pushed back on accusations, saying the licensing issues “have nothing to do with the accident.” He said the sleeping quarter was a proper lodging and not an improvised structure.

“We have to take measures to legalize our training ground,” Belotti said. “We needed nine certificates and we already have eight. We are working with the fire department.”

Belotti linked the heavy Rio rains earlier in the week to what he called “a tragic accident” and said unstable electricity could have sparked the fire.

“It was not because of lack of attention and care from Flamengo. These boys are our biggest asset,” he said. “It was all a succession of events after a catastrophic day for Rio.”

The Flamengo executive did not take questions and did not explain why the sleeping quarter was registered as a parking lot in the project originally sent to Rio’s city hall. Whether bad weather led to a power surge, common in Rio de Janeiro and other parts of Brazil, the club has not detailed what measures, if any, were in place in case of fire.

It was also impossible to ignore a sobering reality: the sleeping quarters must have included such flammable material that 10 young men, all in the best shape of their lives, were not able to escape before being consumed by the flames.

“Flamengo is responsible because it should take care of its athletes and the dormitory where the fire took place was not in the club’s project,” said Filipe Sales, a 26-year-old fan who stood Saturday outside team’s headquarters in Southern Rio, where hundreds gathered for a symbolic embrace.

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“This has to be an alert for every club in this country, and authorities must investigate severely,” Sales said.

The incident came just two weeks after the Jan. 25 dam collapse in Brazil unleashed a flood of mining waste in Minas Gerais state, killing at least 157 people.

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