Under mounting criticism, Brazilian football club Flamengo has defended its management of the training ground where a fire killed 10 of its academy players at a dormitory that had been registered with the city as a car park.
Rio de Janeiro’s city hall said in a statement that Flamengo was fined 31 times because of infractions at the Ninho do Urubu training ground, which had to be temporarily closed in October 2017. The club did not pay 21 of those fines.
City hall also said the sleeping quarters where Flamengo’s players — all between 14 and 16 years old — died was irregularly licensed as a car park.
“The lodging area hit by the fire is not included in the last project approved by our licensing,” it said. “There are no registers of new licensing requests for that area as a sleeping quarter.”
Three teenagers injured in the fire were still in the hospital, including one in serious condition.
Flamengo’s chief executive Reinaldo Belotti pushed back on accusations, saying the licensing issues “have nothing to do with the accident”.
He said the sleeping quarter was a proper lodging and not an improvised structure.
“We have to take measures to legalise our training ground,” Mr Belotti said. “We needed nine certificates and we already have eight. We are working with the fire department.”
Mr Belotti linked the heavy Rio rains earlier in the week to what he called “a tragic accident” and said unstable electricity could have sparked the fire.
“It was not because of lack of attention and care from Flamengo. These boys are our biggest asset,” he said. “It was all a succession of events after a catastrophic day for Rio.”
The Flamengo executive did not take questions and did not explain why the sleeping quarter was registered as a car park in the project originally sent to Rio’s city hall.
The cause of the fire is still unknown, although authorities are looking at a possible short circuit in the air conditioning system.
The administration of mayor Marcelo Crivella said it would open an investigation, while local police said they have already heard testimony from 13 surviving players and three Flamengo staffers.
Forensic experts identified seven of the victims: Arthur Vinicius de Barros Silva, Pablo Henrique da Silva Matos, Vitor Isaias Coelho da Silva, Bernardo Augusto Manzke Pisetta, Gedson Corgosinho Beltrao dos Santos, Athila de Souza Paixao and Christian Esmerio Candido, a 15-year-old goalkeeper that had already played for Brazil’s national team’s youth divisions.
Player Jhonata Ventura is still in serious condition, while athletes Cauan Emanuel and Francisco Dyogo were listed in stable condition.
A club spokesman said DNA tests would identify the remains of other victims, a process that could take months.
Throughout Brazil, however, mourning rituals were already under way.
In the south-east city of Volta Redonda, friends and relatives carried the coffin of Arthur Vinicius and embraced one another in grief.
Players from the professional Rio-based club arrived at Ninho do Urubu on Saturday also dressed in black for a training session and prayed with Flamengo coach Abel Braga.
The team’s weekend match against Fluminense in the semifinals of the Rio de Janeiro state championship was postponed to Wednesday.
Like many professional clubs, Flamengo has a development programme for promising young players. Many, particularly those who live outside of Rio de Janeiro, stay at the facilities while training.
Not long ago, Brazilian-born soccer stars Vinicius Jr and Lucas Paqueta were living at the same training ground. Vinicius Jr now plays for Real Madrid and Paqueta plays for AC Milan.