Dormitory where 10 budding soccer stars died was licensed as carpark

Rio de Janeiro: Under mounting criticism, Brazilian soccer club Flamengo has defended its management of the training ground where a fire killed 10 of its most promising young players – all between 14 and 16 years old – at un unlicensed dormitory.

Rio de Janeiro council said in a statement that Flamengo had been fined 31 times because of infractions at the Ninho do Urubu training ground, which had to be temporarily closed in October 2017. The club did not pay 21 of those fines.

Friends and relatives of Christian Candido carry a banner that reads “People” in Portuguese during his funeral procession in a Rio de Janeiro cemetery.Credit:AP

It said the sleeping quarters where Flamengo's players died was irregularly licensed as a carpark.

"The lodging area hit by the fire is not included in the last project approved by our licensing," it said. "There are no registers of new licensing requests for that area as a sleeping quarter."

Three teenagers injured in the fire were still in the hospital, including one in serious condition.

The Flamengo training centre where the young players’ dormitory was reduced to piles of ash under a tin roof, centre.Credit:AP

Flamengo's CEO Reinaldo Belotti pushed back on accusations, saying the licensing issues "have nothing to do with the accident." He said the sleeping quarter was a proper lodging and not an improvised structure.

"We have to take measures to legalise our training ground," Belotti said. "We needed nine certificates and we already have eight. We are working with the fire department."

Belotti linked the heavy Rio rains earlier in the week to what he called "a tragic accident" and said unstable electricity could have sparked the fire.

"It was not because of lack of attention and care from Flamengo. These boys are our biggest asset," he said. "It was all a succession of events after a catastrophic day for Rio."

Hundreds of grief-stricken people attended the funeral of 15-year-old goalkeeper Christian Candido.Credit:AP

The Flamengo executive did not take questions and did not explain why the sleeping quarter was registered as a parking lot in the project originally sent to council. Whether bad weather led to a power surge, common in Rio de Janeiro and other parts of Brazil, the club has not detailed what measures, if any, were in place in case of fire.

It was also impossible to ignore a sobering reality: the sleeping quarters must have included such flammable material that 10 young men, all in the best shape of their lives, were not able to escape before being consumed by the flames.

On Sunday NHJ, the manufacturer of the modular containers used as sleeping quarters denied they contained flamable materials. It said the thermoacoustic panels used in the internal lining of the metal containers were fire proof.

"Flamengo is responsible because it should take care of its athletes and the dormitory where the fire took place was not in the club's project," said Filipe Sales, a 26-year-old fan who stood outside team's headquarters in Southern Rio, where hundreds gathered for a symbolic embrace on Saturday evening.

"This has to be an alert for every club in this country, and authorities must investigate severely. Ten kids are dead and this cannot happen again," Sales said.

Flamengo's most famous former player, Ronaldinho, posted a black and white version of the team's shield expressing sorrow: "Great sorrow. My condolences to all the families and to the whole red-black nation. Terrible tragedy."

The incident came just two weeks after the January 25 dam collapse in Brazil unleashed a flood of mining waste in Minas Gerais state, killing at an estimated 300 people.

On Wednesday night and early Thursday, torrential downpours and strong winds killed at least seven people and left a trail of destruction, stirring a wave of controversy over shoddy infrastructure and lax oversight in Latin America's largest nation.

The cause of the fire was still unknown, although authorities were looking at a possible short circuit in the air conditioning system. The administration of Mayor Marcelo Crivella said it would open an investigation, while local police said they have already heard testimony from 13 surviving players and three Flamengo staffers.

A former Flamengo player who spent 10 years with the institution was critical of its handling of young players. He asked to remain anonymous because he still played in a professional capacity.

"All of the young people in my generation see ourselves reflected in this tragedy," he said. "If law officials investigate, more irregularities will come to light. It's a situation that not only occurs in Flamengo but in all Brazilian football."

Five of the victims were 14 years old, four were 15 and one 16.

Forensic experts identified eight of them: Arthur Silva, Pablo Matos, Vitor Silva, Bernardo Pisetta, Gedson Santos, Athila Paixao, Rykelmo Vianna, and Christian Candido, who had already played for Brazil's national team's youth divisions.

Friends and relatives attend the burial of promising star Christian Candido in Rio on Sunday.Credit:AP

Fitfteen-year-old Candido was buried on Sunday. Hi uncle Alan Silva said his nephew's dream was to help his parents leave the slum where they live and become a starter with the national team.

"But unfortunately, we lost a great player; a great warrior," he said.

Jhonata Ventura was still in serious condition, while Cauan Emanuel and Francisco Dyogo were listed in stable condition.

A club spokesman said DNA tests would identify the heavily burnt remains of other victims, a process that could take months.

In the south-east city of Volta Redonda, friends and relatives carried the coffin of Arthur Vinicius, who would have turned 15 on Saturday, and embraced one another in grief.

"He was 15 years old. The same day he was born is the day I'm burying my son," his mother, Marilia Barros da Silva, said.

Flamengo's anthem was played during the memorial service, and the club's flag was placed onto the coffin.

Defender Pedro Henrique was buried later in the city of Oliveira, 430 kilometres to the North of Rio. His cousin, Thales Gomes de Souza, told news website G1 the fire "was not a tragedy, it could have been avoided."

"He could be here with us now," Souza said.

Players from the professional Rio-based club arrived at Ninho do Urubu on Saturday also dressed in black for a training session and prayed with Flamengo coach Abel Braga. The team's weekend match against Fluminense in the state championship semifinals was postponed.

Like many professional clubs, Flamengo has a development program for promising young players. Many, particularly those who live outside of Rio de Janeiro, stay at the facilities while training.

Not long ago, Brazilian-born soccer stars Vinicius Jr and Lucas Paqueta were living at the same training ground. Vinicius Jr now plays for Real Madrid and Paqueta plays for AC Milan.

AP with Lia Timson

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