Saturday 23 February 2019

Youth team players among 10 killed in blaze at training centre of leading Brazilian soccer team

Tragedy: Fans gather to lay flowers at the entrance of the Flamengo training centre. Photo: Getty Images
Tragedy: Fans gather to lay flowers at the entrance of the Flamengo training centre. Photo: Getty Images

Gabriel Stargardter

A fire swept through the training centre and lodgings of Rio de Janeiro soccer club Flamengo yesterday, killing 10 people, including members of the club's youth team, firefighters and news reports said.

At least three youths aged 14 and 15 were injured in the blaze. All three were taken to the hospital, one of them in serious condition.

Aftermath of the fire in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Photo: Reuters
Aftermath of the fire in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Photo: Reuters

Firefighters said they arrived at the Ninho do Urubu, a state-of-the-art training centre that was expanded and opened only two months ago, shortly after 5am to find the building engulfed in flames.

Some people had managed to escape, but the ferocity of the blaze prevented firefighters from entering the facility.

"We managed to rescue the victims that were outside," fire service Lieutenant Colonel Douglas Henaut said. "The place was completely overtaken by fire. As much as we tried to get inside and find people still alive that wasn't [possible]...We only found bodies inside. We can't tell you the cause of the fire, that needs to be investigated."

Flamengo president Rodolfo Landim called it "the biggest tragedy in Flamengo's 123-year history" but gave no details about the players involved.

News reports said the fire happened in one of the older parts of the facility that was due to be torn down. It was not known whether smoke alarms were installed in the rooms.

'O Globo' newspaper reported the building did not have the correct permits but did not cite sources.

One young player said the fire started in his room. "The air conditioner caught fire, and I ran out," said Felipe Cardoso, a midfielder with the U17 side. "Thank God I managed to run and I'm still alive."

'O Globo' identified at least six of the dead as youth players but the only one named by a club official was Christian Esmerio, a 15-year-old goalkeeper.

"I had the pleasure of knowing you, unfortunately an accident interrupted your dream," Gabriel Batista, a senior goalkeeper at the club, wrote on Instagram.

It is common for Brazilian clubs to host young players in dormitories while they are training with youth teams or at the club for trials, especially those from poor backgrounds or from outside the city.

However, many of the lodgings have a reputation for poor health and hygiene standards. In recent years, major clubs such as Vasco da Gama, Botafogo and Parana have hit the headlines due to the precarious conditions of their training centres.

After years of financial difficulties, Flamengo last year spent 23 million reais (€5.5m) to expand the Ninho do Urubu training ground on the edge of the city, and it was being used by first team and youth squads.

In addition to accommodation for young players, the facilities include several pitches, an aquatic park, a gym, a medical centre and a mini-stadium.

The Ninho do Urubu, or Vulture's Nest, gets its name from the club's symbol, which is a vulture. Flamengo, where World Cup heroes such as Zico, Junior and Leonardo got their start, is one of the best-supported clubs in Brazil.

Irish Independent

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