Deadly fire hangs over success of top Brazilian soccer club

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A mural features the faces of the young soccer players who died one year ago in a fire at the Flamengo club training center in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Friday, Feb. 7, 2020. The fire killed 10 academy players and injured three others, all aged between 14 and 16 years-old at the time. (AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo)

RIO DE JANEIRO – When Marília de Barros Silva heard reports that the popular Brazilian soccer club Flamengo was signing a player for almost 17 million euros ($18.6 million), she felt sadness — but also resentment.

For a year, she has been trying in vain to reach a settlement with the Rio de Janeiro club after her teenage son Arthur Vinicius died in a fire that engulfed his dormitory at the team's academy for young players.

De Barros Silva says she was incredulous over the amount being paid for the team's new star. She says it dwarfs the amount that she and the public defender's office had been trying to get Flamengo to pay in compensation for the loss of her son, a promising defender who had played for Brazil’s under-17 team.

Saturday marked one year since the fire killed 10 of Flamengo's academy players, all between 14 and 16 years old. It was “the worst tragedy” in the team's 124-year history, club president Rodolfo Landim has repeatedly said since.

Against that grim backdrop, Flamengo turned in one of its best seasons in decades. The team won the Rio state championship, its first Brazilian national league championship since 2009 and the prestigious Copa Libertadores in a nail-biting final against Argentina’s River Plate. Flamengo hadn’t won the South American crown for 38 years.

But while its 2019 success helped the club sign several million-dollar deals for players, it has reached compensation agreements with just four of the 10 victims' families. Negotiations with the others seemed stalled as the police investigation into possible homicide charges concluded Friday.

In a country where one of every five Brazilians is a Flamengo fan, de Barros Silva and other parents wonder when justice, and peace, will come.

“It's Flamengo's insensitivity, of turning that page," she said at her humble home in Rio de Janeiro state.