Calls to Rename Rio’s Olympic Stadium Following Bribe ScandalTariq Panja
Protesters are pushing for a name change at the stadium hosting track and field events at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro after soccer’s governing body said the man for whom the facility is named took bribes.
The Estadio Olimpico Joao Havelange in downtown Rio is where world record holder Usain Bolt will seek to extend his streak in the 100-meter and 200-meter dash to three straight Olympics. Havelange, FIFA president between 1974 and 1998, was among three former soccer officials who took bribes from the organization’s now-bankrupt former marketing partner ISL, FIFA said this week. He resigned his role as FIFA’s honorary president on April 18.
“It’s shame for Brazil to have this name attached to the stadium,” Gabriel Marinho, a member of the Rio-based National Front of Sports Fans, which is demanding the stadium be renamed, said in a phone interview. “It will be a great shame if it still has this name when the Olympics start.”
An official at Havelange’s Rio office declined to comment, saying the 96-year-old was unwell and was no longer active in an official capacity.
The stadium was closed indefinitely in March, just six years after opening, because signs of wear in its roof structure suggest a danger of collapse, according to the office of Mayor Eduardo Paes. It cost 390 million reais ($190 million) to build, and is owned and managed by the city of Rio. A name change is not on the agenda for now, the mayor’s office said.
“The city of Rio is focused only on finding a solution to the problem with the roof and to start work to reopen the stadium as soon as possible,” the mayor’s office said in an e-mailed statement. “The issue of a possible name change, on behalf of the complaints against former FIFA President Joao Havelange, is not being discussed at the moment.”
Marinho said fans of soccer team Botafogo, the stadium’s main tenant, are pushing for the stadium to bear the name of Joao Saldanha, a soccer coach who managed both Botafogo and the Brazilian national team in the 1950s. Fans attending matches before the stadium was closed carried a banner that that read “Estadio Joao Saldanha,” Marinho added.
FIFA announced Havelange resigned as its honorary president after an internal inquiry found he, along with one-time son-in-law Ricardo Teixeira, a former FIFA vice president, and Nicolas Leoz, ex-head of the South American soccer confederation, accepted “not inconsiderable amounts” from ISL through “front companies in order to cover up the true recipient.” Havelange and Teixeira have denied the allegations in the past.
Leoz told FIFA investigators he donated the money he received in 2000 to charity in 2008, according to the FIFA report. He resigned from the confederation on April 24, citing health and personal reasons.
During his two-decade tenure as FIFA president, Havelange used the relationship with ISL to bring sponsors including Coca-Cola Co., Adidas AG and McDonald’s Corp. to its quadrennial World Cup. That tournament now brings in around $5 billion, including sponsorships, TV rights, and ticket sales.
A separate report published by a Swiss court last year said that from 1992 to 2000, ISL paid Havelange and Teixeira a total of at least $22 million.
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