Latin America & Caribbean

'Problems' as Maracana stadium reopens in Rio

View of the inside of the Maracana stadium as it reopened with a test event on Saturday
Image caption Venue organisers tried to show the renovated stadium in its best light, but Brazilian media said there were many problems with the venue

Rio's world-famous Maracana stadium has reopened after nearly three years of renovations to prepare it for the World Cup finals in 2014.

Workers who helped with the renovation and their families were treated to an exhibition match between teams of stars past and present.

But leading newspapers reported problems with the new facility.

The reopening follows controversy over delays, costs and the future privatisation of the site.

The renovation was completed four months behind schedule.

Days before the test event, seats were still being installed and pavements laid near the venue.

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and Rio de Janeiro's Mayor Eduardo Paes were among the 30,000-strong crowd watching the friendly between teams captained by Ronaldo and Bebeto.

But the Jornal do Brasil said Saturday's visitors "needed patience to deal with the many problems" at the venue, arising from the rush to complete it.

It highlighted uneven flooring with small gaps and holes, flooding in the VIP area and a dysfunctional lift, and said some staff had tried to prevent journalists taking pictures of the affected areas.

Workers were still finishing building a stadium wall, and ticket offices, turnstiles and gates were not working, said another paper, the Folha de Sao Paulo.

International test

But in a statement quoted by the Folha de Sao Paulo, the Rio de Janeiro state government pointed out that this was a test event, using only 30% of the stadium's full capacity, and did not represent the full reopening.

It said it was "natural" that some more work remained to be done.

Image caption The Maracana stadium development has led to a series of protests

"Maracana will be delivered fully ready on the date set by Fifa: 24 May," it reportedly said.

Former Brazil star striker Ronaldo, who captained one team for the exhibition match against former teammate Bebeto, said the stadium looked "amazing".

"I'm happy to see the stadium ready again. The Maracana is a symbol of this country," he said, according to the Assoociated Press news agency.

Former Brazil coach and player Mario Zagallo said he had "goose-bumps" when he arrived, AP said.

The first major international test of the facility will be a friendly between Brazil and England on 2 June before the Confederations Cup begins two weeks later.

There has been criticism of the cost of the renovation - nearly $500m (£320m) - because the stadium has already seen a number of upgrades.

A Brazilian indigenous group, the Aldeia Maracana (or Maracana tribe), have also protested at the site against their eviction from a former indigenous museum, built in 1862.

Plans to privatise the Maracana have run into controversy too, with demonstrations against the demolition of local facilities to make way for an arena with bars, restaurants and shops.

Critics say privatisation will return much less to the government than it invested in the project.

The Maracana is seen as an iconic venue. Nearly 200,000 people watched the 1950 World Cup final between Brazil and Uruguay - the largest crowd ever to have watched a football match at a stadium.

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