By Jaylan Boyle, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO – The city’s famous Maracanã football stadium, a tourist attraction, sports venue and building of historical significance, closes it’s doors for up to two years this week, as the iconic arena goes through a major overhaul to meet the requirements of the 2014 FIFA World Cup. The renovations are set to cost close to US$400 million.
Officially known as the Estádio Jornalista Mário Filho, it was purpose-built for Brazil’s hosting of the 1950 World Cup, and though not actually completed in time for the final, FIFA allowed it to be used, a situation that will be avoided at any cost this time around.
The stadium is also home to Rio’s major football teams Fluminense and Flamengo, whilst the city’s biggest cultural events are also staged here, such as Madonna’s appearance last year and Frank Sinatra’s legendary show.
Visiting football fans will be sorely disappointed by the closure until 2013. Somewhat disappointingly given the stadium’s history and Fluminense’s current position at the top of the league, the final game played at The Maracanã this year was a goalless draw between Flamengo and Santos.
Fluminense still await confirmation of where they will play their remaining matches of the season, but if they maintain their fight for the title, the lost revenue from potentially sold-out games there will be huge. Flamengo have already made a deal with Botafogo to play their games at the Engenhão stadium, built for the 2007 Pan American Games, leaving Fluminense with the grim prospect of sharing the crumbling São Januário stadium with Vasco da Gama. Check the club websites for the latest information on match venues.
When originally constructed, the Maracanã was the world’s largest stadium, with capacity for 200,000 spectators, but this has been reduced over the years to 88,000, mainly due to it becoming all-seater amidst heightened safety concerns and particularly the high-profile 1992 partial collapse of the stadium, which led to immediate and drastic reductions in the permitted capacity.
The renovated Maracanã will be unveiled at the Confederations Cup in 2013, a dress rehearsal for Brazil’s hosting of the FIFA World Cup the following year, and the staging of the final of the world’s biggest sporting event in Rio.
The new stadium will have a new capacity of 83,000, and will include new entrance and exit ways to meet the FIFA security standards as well as modern refreshments and restaurant facilities and a state of the art media center. It being a listed building the façade of the structure will remain, but a roof will be added to the five-story tall behemoth.
The Maracanã will become only the second stadium in the world to host the FIFA World Cup final twice and Brazilians will be hoping that, should their team make the final, there will be no repeat of their shock defeat at the hands of Uruguay in 1950 when Brazil needed only a draw to lift the Jules Rimet trophy, but failed to get past the final hurdle in front of between 175,000 and 200,000 fans.