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Will Brazil turn World Cup stadium into a jail?

Photo: AFP

A judge in Brazil’s jungle state of Amazonas has suggested turning a new 200-million-euro World Cup stadium into a prison once the international tournament ends –an idea that has been swiftly rejected by local Cup organisers and residents.


Brazilian World Cup organisers are banking on a new 200-million-euro stadium to attract tens of thousands of tourists and football enthusiasts to the remote rainforest state of Amazonas next summer. But with just four tournament matches scheduled there and no certain plans for its future use, a local judge wants the sports complex to welcome prisoners.

Sabino Marques, the president of the Amazonas prison system’s monitoring group, told the press this week that he would make a formal request to turn at least part of the Arena Amazonia stadium into a centre for temporary detainees.

Image used under the Creative Commons Atribuição 3.0 Brasil license

Interviewed by news website G1, Marques said it was a reasonable way to tackle rampant prison overcrowding in the northwestern city of Manaus and the rest of the state. He said the main prison in Manaus was meant to house “between 200 and 300 detainees” but currently counted “at least 1,000.”

Marques argued that transforming part of the stadium into a processing centre for temporary prisoners – who represent the majority of the inmate population – would go a long way in easing overcrowding.

“We are not turning into the Pinochet regime, people are not going to sleep on the field,” the judge told the media this week, insisting he himself hoped the stadium would also find a second life as a “health or education” facility, but that it would be largely vacant after August.

Widespread outcry

The unusual post-World Cup proposal, which grabbed headlines across Brazil and the world, was swiftly rebuffed by local tournament organisers and residents.

UGP-Copa, the group in charge of implementing World Cup projects in Manaus, and which is run from the state governor’s office, rejected the plan, saying it failed to meet the pre-established mission for venues to host “entertainment, culture, sporting” events in the wake of the global football competition.

The Amazonas bar association also said in a statement that it “vehemently disagreed” with the idea, which it said flew in the face of the “intended purpose to host the World Cup, as well as its future legacy as a sporting centre in the city [of Manaus].”

Local news outlets said residents were appalled by the suggestion of relegating the state-of-the-art facility to a detention centre. In one report, the popular Blog da Floresta failed to find a single person on a busy Manaus road who backed the plan.

Edenora Picanço, a retired state employee, told Blog da Foresta that it sounded “very dangerous” and would inevitably taint the stadium's image.

Abel Xiavenato, a civil engineer told the web portal the plan was “ridiculous”. “The structure of a prison complex is completely different [from that of a sports stadium].

The judge Marques was forced to react on Wednesday to the widespreak outcry: “Every day there are more people entering the [prison] system than leaving it. One prison is already scheduled to be closed, so where are we going to put these people?” he asked.

The Arena Amazonia stadium will host its first World Cup match on June 14. The 44,000-capacity arena is reportedly 80% complete and will be fitted with its grass pitch in October.

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