SAO PAULO, Jan 9 (Reuters) - The Rio de Janeiro stadium that is to host athletics at the 2016 Olympics will reopen next month after almost two years of repair work, according to the president of the Botafogo soccer club that play there.
The 45,000-capacity Joao Havelange Olympic Stadium (Engenhao), completed in 2007 for the Pan American Games, was closed in March 2013 after officials discovered the roof was in danger of collapse.
On Friday, Botafogo president Carlos Eduardo Pereira said his club would play Boavista there in the Rio de Janeiro state championship next month.
“We have just left a meeting with Mayor Eduardo Paes and can confirm Botafogo will open their campaign on Feb. 1 at the Engenhao,” Pereira told the Arena Sportv television show.
The lower tier, which seats 20,000, will be opened next month and the rest will follow at a later date.
Pereira also said the club had officially asked to change the name of the venue to the Nilton Santos Olympic Stadium, in tribute to the Botafogo full back who won a World Cup winner’s medal in 1958 and 1962.
The ground, owned by the city and leased to Botafogo, is called the Joao Havelange Olympic Stadium after the former president of world soccer’s ruling body FIFA.
Havelange was also a member of the International Olympic Committee until he resigned from the IOC in 2011 after being accused of taking bribes. Some fans now want his name stripped from the stadium title.
However, Brazilian Olympic officials have said they are proud of Havelange and will not remove his name.
The stadium’s closure cast a grey cloud over the normally bright blue skies of Brazil’s most iconic city and its preparations to become South America’s first Olympic host.
Engineers shut the arena after discovering the roof could collapse in high winds and massive cranes were brought in to reinforce the structure.
Before work started a canteen, storage facilities and toilets had to be built for the 700 workers.
Technicians then cut holes in the roof and secured the arcs with 34 metal towers before using hydraulic lifts to push it back into place and shore it up.
The closure represented a calamity for Botafogo who lost an estimated 12 million Brazilian reals ($4.56 million) a year in stadium income, the previous club president Mauricio Assumpcao told Reuters last year.
With one of its biggest sources of finance no longer available, the club owe players millions in unpaid wages and the government has sequestered its main revenue streams in lieu of back taxes.
“All our problems started when the stadium was shut down,” said Assumpcao before the club were relegated in December.
“It was a major rupture for us. We lost sponsorship and we lost income.”
City officials have played down the debacle and will be delighted to see the stadium open with the Olympics just 19 months away.
“It’s bitter. It’s unfortunate. It’s unpopular,” said Armando Queiroga, president of RioUrbe, the city organisation that oversees the renovation of the venue.
“It shouldn’t have happened. (But) the important thing is we took action.”
$1 = 2.6343 Brazilian Reals Editing by Tony Jimenez