Rio 2016: Track And Field Venue Closed Indefinitely

An embarrassing setback for a country facing a monumental task: hosting the 2014 World Cup, and 2016 Olympics

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Dario Lopez-Mills / AP

Workers clean the Joao Havelange stadium in Rio de Janeiro, July 11, 2007

Rio de Janeiro’s monumental task of staging two major international sporting events in as many years has hit a snag as one of the main athletics venues for the 2016 Olympics has been shut indefinitely for repairs.

The Joao Havelange stadium, also known by its nickname the Engenhão, was officially opened–six times over budget, at a cost of $192 million–just six years ago. But structural problems with the 46,000-capacity stadium’s roof have led to safety concerns and, says Rio’s mayor, an “indeterminate” hiatus while the problems are investigated.

(MORE: Rio 2016: Is Brazil Going to Be Ready for the Olympics?)

Mayor Eduardo Paes told a press conference:

“I asked if this represented a risk for spectators and they told me it did, depending on the wind speed and temperature.

“On that basis, I immediately decided to close the stadium until we had more details.

“It’s simply not acceptable that a stadium which was inaugurated such a short time ago now has to face this sort of situation.

“If they give me a solution that will last a month, then it will stay closed for a month, if it takes a year, it will stay closed for a year. I will wait until a definitive solution if presented. We can’t play with something like this.”

The Engenhão, which will have its capacity increased to 60,000 for the Olympics, is supposed to host track and field events during the Games, although it won’t be used for the opening or closing ceremonies.

(MORE: Q&A: Aldo Rebelo, Brazil’s Sports Minister, on Hosting the World Cup and Olympic Games)

The stadium closure comes as an embarrassment to Brazil, which is desperately trying to prepare for both the Olympics and next year’s soccer World Cup. As well as sporting venues, there is significant investment in the city’s infrastructure, as the Independent reports. There is also a concerted attempt to clean up the city’s image, with the city’s crime-ridden favelas undergoing—controversially—a program known locally as “pacification”, accompanied by forced eviction from some areas to allow for Olympic construction (local human rights bodies estimate around 30,000 people have been evicted, the Independent reports).

The Engenhão is also currently being used by three Rio-based soccer clubs while their regular home, the iconic Maracana (where just under 200,000 watched the 1950 World Cup final) undergoes renovation in preparation for this summer’s Confederations Cup. That tournament is seen as a “dress rehearsal” for next year’s World Cup, which will also see matches at the Maracana. That stadium’s renovations are due to be completed at the end of April, four months behind schedule.

PHOTOS:  Pacifying the Favelas of Rio de Janeiro