43,000-seat stadium planned for Olympic 7s

TALES AZZONI
Last updated 12:25 27/10/2012

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Vasco da Gama says it will transform its stadium into a new 43,000-seat venue for the return of rugby to the Olympic Games in 2016.

The Brazilian football club says it will deliver the new venue proposal to Rio de Janeiro Olympic organisers in the next few days.

The original idea was to adapt its 25,000-seat Sao Januario Stadium for rugby sevens, but club directors have told The Associated Press that they decided to build a bigger arena at the location.

Vasco da Gama has until next Wednesday to deliver the project to the local Olympic organizing committee, which will then decide whether to approve the idea and give the club the go-ahead to start planning the construction.

Rugby will be returning to the Olympics after 92 years. The sport was last played at the 1924 Games in Paris.

"We've wanted to improve our stadium for quite some time and the Olympics give us a great opportunity to finally do it," club chief executive officer Luiz Gomes told The AP. "We will have the arena ready for the rugby competition in the 2016 Olympics and after that we will have a completely new stadium for the team."

The horseshoe-shaped Sao Januario was built in 1927 in the Maracana region and was the main football venue in Rio de Janeiro until Maracana was built for the 1950 World Cup. It's the stadium where star striker Romario scored his 1000th career goal while playing for Vasco in 2007. It's also remembered for a fence collapsing in the 2000 Brazilian league final, when more than 150 fans were injured.

The only part of the stadium which won't be destroyed for the new arena is the facade, which is considered a historic monument and can't be brought down.

"It's an old stadium, so it makes more sense to build almost everything from scratch instead of renovating it," Gomes said. "The only thing we have to keep is the facade."

Gomes said the local Olympic committee and the rugby federation gave the club an 89-page book with demands for the sport's venue at the 2016 Games. The Vasco director was in London to evaluate the 2012 Olympic venues and also visited Twickenham, the home of English rugby.

The new Sao Januario is expected to be completed by the end of 2015 or early 2016. Construction work isn't expected to begin until July next year. The club doesn't want to get the project started before renovation at the Maracana is completed so it can host matches there while Sao Januario is closed.

Vasco doesn't say how much the new stadium will cost. Gomes said the club will finance about 60 percent of the costs and investors and sponsors will pay for the rest.

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The city of Rio de Janeiro has already said it will do infrastructure work to improve conditions around the new Sao Januario, especially to create better access routes and to add public transportation options. Mayor Eduardo Paes, a longtime Vasco da Gama fan, has guaranteed the area will be completely revamped for the 2016 Games.

Vasco is a four-time Brazilian league winner and the 1998 Copa Libertadores champion.

Although rugby sevens is one of the fastest growing sports in the world, it does not have many players or followers in Brazil.

The 15-man game was played at the 1900, 1908, 1920 and 1924 Olympics before rugby was left out for nearly 100 years.

- AP

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