May 16 (Bloomberg) -- The Rio de Janeiro stadium that will host next year’s soccer World Cup final is at the center of a dispute between a group of spectators who hold lifetime seats and the city that promised to give the sport’s governing body complete control over the facility.
The Maracana stadium, an iconic arena that staged the championship match in 1950 when Brazil also hosted sport’s most-watched event, asked local residents to help fund its completion before and after that tournament in return for “perpetual seats.” The agreements dating back several decades guarantee ticket holders, who pay an annual subscription, access to the arena for any event staged there.
FIFA signed accords with the 12 host cities and Brazil’s government that the stadiums used during the 2014 World Cup effectively become the property of soccer’s governing body for the duration of the 32-team tournament and next month’s Confederations Cup, a warmup event. On May 13, a court in Rio lifted an injunction on the use of the 4,968 seats during FIFA events at the 79,000-seat Maracana.
The Rio government successfully argued that maintaining the injunction that would allow perpetual seat holders access to the stadium for the soccer tournaments would “cause overcrowding of the stadium, confusion and turmoil at the entrance gates, and security risks and disturbances in press operations.”
Under Rio’s accord with FIFA, the Zurich-based soccer organization “has the right to immediately terminate the agreement” and take back its games if any terms of the agreement over the use of the stadium is violated, said a statement on the Rio court’s website.
Seat holders including Jamile Thome, who works for Accenture Plc, the world’s second-largest technology-consulting company, said they will continue the fight to get places to the World Cup, and could take further legal action. Thome said eight seats have been in her family since her grandparents helped complete the stadium’s reconstruction several decades ago. Each seat requires an annual payment of R$740 ($365).
As well as seeing her local soccer team, Flamengo, the seats at the Maracana have granted Thome access to concerts featuring The Police, Madonna and the Back Street Boys and even a visit by the late Pope John Paul II in 1997, his second trip to the stadium.
“When they chose Maracana for the World Cup they knew these tickets existed,” Thome, 27, said in an interview at a cafe in the Botafogo neighborhood of Rio. “They can’t pretend that we don’t exist. They chose a stadium with this kind of rule, so they have to respect it.”
The seat holders stand a good chance of succeeding with any appeals, according to Eduardo Carlezzo, a lawyer at Sao Paulo-based Carlezzo Advogados Associados who is not connected with the case.
“There is a rule in the Brazilian legal system which says that a subsequent law cannot affect the rights legally granted to a person in accordance with a previous law,” Carlezzo said in an e-mail. “It means that the right of the owners could not be affected by a subsequent law.”
Still, seat owners may have to settle for compensation “considering that the government assumed a commitment with FIFA to deliver the stadium free of any obligations,” he added.
Thome added that she’s been going to the stadium since she was first taken there as a 1-year-old, saying, “You could say I was born in the Maracana.”
Jerome Valcke, FIFA’s general secretary and the official responsible for the World Cup, yesterday underlined his organization’s position on the matter.
“For us it’s normal,” he said at a news conference following an inspection visit to the Maracana. “What we’re asking is for clean stadiums when we are organizing World Cups anywhere in the world.”
The controversy is among the issues that have blighted preparations to make the venue the centerpiece of the four-yearly championship. The stadium’s reopening after a three-year refurbishment faced multiple delays, while critics also have complained about the more than $500 million it cost to get it ready for the World Cup.
The Maracana, which is scheduled to stage seven matches at the tournament, set a World Cup-record attendance of 173,850 for the 1950 final.
Many of its seat holders are professionals and include lawyers and even a judge who sits on Brazil’s supreme court, Thome said.
“The government has decided that FIFA is more important than people who’ve been paying for more than 50 years,” she said. “It feels so strange not having the possibility to watch the World Cup in the Maracana from our seats.”
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