RIO DE JANEIRO, June 17 (Reuters) - Brazilian football will kick off again in Rio de Janeiro this week after the city’s mayor gave the go ahead for the local league to start after a three-month hiatus caused by the new coronavirus.
Marcelo Crivella told reporters on Wednesday he was giving the green light to restart the Rio de Janeiro state championship, one of the most important in Brazil.
The first game is scheduled for the Maracana stadium on Thursday, when reigning champions Flamengo take on Bangu. Like most leagues restarting this month, no fans will be allowed into the ground.
However, Crivella asked the state football federation not to sanction teams that were refusing to play on health and safety grounds.
Botafogo and Fluminense, two of the biggest clubs in the city, have both said they will not play. Botafogo asked for more time to prepare and offered to restart their campaign in July.
“Our appeal is that the clubs who think they shouldn’t return are not punished, the opening phase is not obligatory,” Crivella told reporters.
“If a player that is obliged to return turns up tomorrow with COVID-19 and dies then people are going to say, we came back too soon.”
The decision comes as Brazil continues to struggle to control the spread of the virus. On Tuesday, the Health Ministry announced a new daily death toll of 1,282, taking the overall number of deaths to 45,241.
Brazil has recorded more deaths from the virus than any country in the world outside the United States. (Writing by Andrew Downie; editing by Ken Ferris)