Sports

At Brazil's World Cup, a Battle Over Maracana Stadium Seats


At Brazil's World Cup, a Battle Over Maracana Stadium Seats

Photograph by Dado Galdieri/Bloomberg

Jamile Thome, a management consultant at Accenture (ACN) in Rio de Janeiro, says her family has had unfettered use of eight seats at the city’s Maracanã stadium since her grandparents contributed to the financing of the stadium’s reconstruction in the 1960s. Besides allowing her to cheer on her local soccer team, Flamengo, the seats have given Thome access to concerts by the Police, Madonna, and the Backstreet Boys, and even a visit by Pope John Paul II. Each seat requires only an annual payment of R$740 ($365) in perpetuity.

Thome had expected to view the World Cup finals next year from the same prime real estate at the 79,000-seat Maracanã. But a May 13 ruling by a Rio court handed control of all the stadium’s seating to FIFA, soccer’s governing body, during the tourney. That has Thome and the holders of the other 4,960 perpetually reserved seats crying foul. “When they chose Maracanã for the World Cup they knew these tickets existed,” says Thome, 27, whose parents first took her to the arena when she was a year old. “They can’t pretend that we don’t exist. They chose a stadium with this kind of rule, so they have to respect it.”

In 1950, when Brazil also hosted the World Cup, local officials asked residents to help fund the completion of Maracanã for the championship match. In addition, they sought funding for later improvements. In return, donors received so-called captive chairs. The agreements guaranteed those ticket holders access to the arena for any event so long as they pay their annual subscription, which changes little from year to year. That runs counter to the accords FIFA signed with 12 host cities and Brazil’s government that the stadiums used during the 2014 World Cup effectively become FIFA property for the duration of the 32-team tournament and next month’s Confederations Cup, a warm-up event. “What we’re asking is for clean stadiums when we are organizing World Cups anywhere in the world,” Jérôme Valcke, FIFA’s general secretary, said at a news conference on May 15.

The suit is between perpetual ticket holders and Rio officials. The Rio government successfully argued in court that giving perpetual seat holders access to the stadium during the World Cup would “cause overcrowding of the stadium, confusion and turmoil at the entrance gates, and security risks and disturbances in press operations.” Disgruntled holders of perpetual seats say they will appeal. They stand a good chance of succeeding, according to Eduardo Carlezzo, a lawyer at São 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,” Carlezzo said. For Thome, that’s not good enough. “The government,” she says, “has decided that FIFA is more important than people who’ve been paying for more than 50 years.”

The bottom line: There’s a legal fight over World Cup officials’ ability to control 4,968 seats at Rio’s main stadium, held in perpetuity by funders.

Panja is a reporter for Bloomberg News in London.

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