By Felicity Clarke, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO – Rightly labeled the home of Brazilian football, the Maracanã stadium turned sixty years old on Wednesday, June 16th, and to commemorate the occasion the iconic venue is hosting a collection of photography and exhibits telling the Maracanã story, along with special lighting to celebrate Brazil’s participation in the World Cup 2010.
Although popularly known as Maracanã, the stadium’s official name is Estádio Jornalista Mário Filho, after the journalist Mário Filho, who was one of the main champions of the stadium’s construction. The original project was not without its problems, receiving criticism from prominent politicians about the cost and location, but with Filho’s support the project went ahead, albeit severely behind schedule for the opening game of the 1950 Brazil World Cup.
Unfinished, without toilets, no press stand and still looking like a building site, the inaugural match took place on June 16th, 1950 between Rio de Janeiro All-Stars and São Paulo All-Stars which resulted in a 3-1 Carioca victory. The first official match came a week later and the 1950 World Cup game between Brazil and Mexico on June 24th. The stadium’s official 81,000 seated spectators watched Brazil win 4-0, but the reported attendance of 200,000 as fans packed into the standing areas made it one of the largest stadiums in the world at the time.
Work wasn’t fully completed until 1965 and after the World Cup left Brazil the stadium became the prominent playing ground for club matches between Rio’s four main teams and national tournament finals. It has been the site of historic footballing moments, such as Pelé scoring the one thousandth goal of his career for Flamengo against Vasco da Gama in 1969 and Zico scoring the last of his record 333 goals at the stadium, also for Flamengo, in 1989. It has also hosted huge non-footballing events including concerts by Madonna, Tina Turner, Paul McCartney and Sting.
The future of the stadium came into question when in 1992 a part of the upper stand collapsed killing three supporters and injuring a further fifty people. The disaster led to the stadium becoming seating-only in the late 1990s, greatly reducing the capacity, and despite the drama, in 1998 was made an official national landmark.
It is now set to close as it goes under extensive restoration and renovation ahead of the 2014 Brazil World Cup and 2016 Rio Olympics when it will be a key venue for both events.
Open from 9AM to 5PM every day until July 11th, the anniversary exhibition tells the story of the stadium and features exhibits including the ball and goal net from Pelé’s one thousandth goal, posters and streamers from the 1950 World Cup and a model of what the stadium will look like in 2014. Outside the exhibition hall are walls of images from important moments in the Maracanã’s and Brazil’s football history as well as high profile visitors such as Frank Sinatra and Pope John Paul II. The stadium and its Bellini statue are also being especially lit in Brazil’s green and yellow for the duration of the current World Cup.
Rio de Janeiro’s Secretary of Sport and Leisure, Márcia Lins, highlighted the importance of the stadium, saying; ¨It is one of the most visited tourist sites in the city, has held memorable home games and unforgettable concerts, so the Maracanã stadium, as it is affectionately called by local fans, deserves all our respect and excitement on the celebration of another year of existence”.
Exhibition open every day 9AM-5PM until July 11th.