By Nelson Belen, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – One of the most drawn out behind-the-scenes football (soccer) storylines in recent memory may have finally reached its conclusion late Wednesday (April 5th) as local news reports that French media company, Lagardère, has reached an agreement in principle with Odebrecht to take over operations of the iconic Maracanã Stadium.
The details of the deal have not been officially disclosed, but various reports have indicated that Lagardère has agreed to pay upwards of R$30 million to assume stadium operations until 2048. In addition, this month Lagardère is reportedly prepared to invest R$20 million for the stadium’s debts and much-needed structural repairs.
This will not be Lagardère’s first foray into Brazil. The media conglomerate, headquartered in Paris, already manages two Brazilian stadiums, Arena Castelão (one of the 2014 FIFA World Cup Stadiums) in Fortaleza and Arena Independência in Belo Horizonte.
Since late February, when multi-national consortium CSM/GL Events/Amsterdam Arenas, took itself out of consideration, Lagardère had been the sole bidder to take over Maracanã management from current stadium head, the Maracanã SA consortium, led by embattled company, Odebrecht.
To the dismay of sports fans around the world, only six months removed from hosting the opening and closing ceremonies of the Rio 2016 Olympics and Paralympics, Maracanã had fallen into a state of abandonment and neglected.
Battles between the Rio 2016 Olympic Committee, the Maracanã SA consortium, and Rio City Hall, left the stadium’s upkeep and maintenance in limbo.
In January, vandals broke into the stadium, robbing seats, televisions, and even a bust of late journalist Mario Filho, whom the stadium is named after. Then, state energy provider, Light, cut off the stadium’s power due to unpaid electric bills totaling over R$3 million.
In mid-January, Rio’s judiciary was forced to intervene, issuing an injunction ordering Maracanã SA to “immediately resume” maintaining and operating the stadium.
But, with Maracanã SA principal Odebrecht embroiled in one of the world’s biggest corporate corruption cases in history, much of the stadium’s maintenance had been paid by Rio’s biggest football clubs. Reportedly, Flamengo had paid Odebrecht R$1.4 million for the right to play its Copa Libertadores debut on March 8th at Maracanã.