RIO DE JANEIRO – Maracanã, perhaps one of the first ten words in Portuguese someone will learn upon arriving in Rio. This shrine to the nation’s passion (Fútbol that is) is as iconic a location as Sugarloaf, Cristo, Lapa, Ipanema beach, and Copacabana nights.
But those planning on proposing marriage to their lovers in full face paint on the telão (jumbo screen), should know it’s closed for the next two years, if things go well.
Maracanã just turned sixty in June of this year, but is being closed for renovation to prepare for the 2014 FIFA World Cup games. FIFA has a set of stadium requirements that the national landmark Maracanã missed, leaving many heart-broken at the prospect of chanting to their favorite teams in smaller venues.
When originally constructed, the Maracanã was the world’s largest stadium, with capacity for 200,000 spectators for the 1950 World Cup (which Brazil lost to Uruguay). Safety regulations were not what they are today, and the capacity has decreased over time.
Most notably, in 1992 a part of the upper stand collapsed killing three fans and injuring scores, which lead to the stadium becoming seating-only in the late 1990s, greatly reducing the capacity to it’s current 88,000, but not dampening the appeal.
According to the FIFA, every stadium in the competition must meet certain viewing conditions from any of the seats, and a roof protecting the entire audience. With the reconstruction of the lower seats, the Maracanã’s capacity will be reduced to around 83,000.
Personally I’ve only been there once, on my first full-month trip here in 2004. Being so new to the city I’m not sure who was even playing (plus I’m American and football mean the Chicago Bears to me). It was a great experience though, a story retold many times.
The excitement in the stands that day felt like a euphoric riot, huge flags being waved, and songs being chanted… maybe even a smoke machine (maybe not). By the year, I’m guessing it was a Flamengo game, seeing as they had a great run only loosing to underdog Série B team from São Paulo (EC Santo André) in the Copa do Brasil.
Having spent more time here since then, another trip to Maracanã has been on my list of things to do for the last month, knowing it was going to close soon. Somehow it didn’t happen, so now it seems I’ll have a reason to try and make my way to Vasco’s field… maybe.
In the heart of Rio and Brazil, the closing of Maracanã will be felt like a loved one being sent away for a couple years. It will always be remembered fondly, and it will be welcomed back with open arms, same same but different.
ps – NFL season starts this week!