Maracana turns into war zone

Maracana turns into war zone
Brazilian mounted riot police patrol outside the Maracana stadium.

MARACANA - Fifa certainly delivered on its militant promise. The Maracana feels like a post-apocalyptic movie set; a land that time and people forgot.

On match days, Brazil's most spiritual sporting venue turns into a drab, foreboding militarised zone.

The Beautiful Game's natural home, where Pele scored his 1,000th goal and Zico his last for Flamengo, has been reduced to a concrete prison; nobody gets in or out without the approval of heavily armed guards.

Like petulant teenagers, Fifa organisers do not respond particularly well to criticism.

When 87 Chile fans stormed security fences at the Maracana media centre in a futile attempt to see their team play Spain in Group B last week, Fifa had to respond.

So they brought out armour-plated, machine gun-carrying, black-clad soldiers wielding the proverbial sledgehammers to swat a mildly distracting fly.

Watching hundreds of special officers turn oblivious children away from various parts of the Maracana complex is the most dispiriting image.

Every road around the football amphitheatre was closed a full six hours before the France-Ecuador game yesterday morning (Singapore time).

Intimidating lines of ridiculously armed men and women in black berets or helmets blocked roads, side streets and all entry points to the stadium, enforcing an exclusion zone that traversed the entire perimeter.

Visitors who were foolish or naive enough to take a taxi to the Maracana - including me - were ordered to stop about a kilometre away from the stadium, forcing families to suffer the long, exposed walk in the midday Rio sunshine.

Despite my media credentials and the help of a kindly traffic volunteer who had sympathised with my innocent predicament, armed police turned me away from their human blockades twice, the second time rather forcefully when I pleaded my case in desperation.

Fifa and the Brazilian authorities spout a slogan before every game, espousing the sporting values of the World Cup and championing its Corinthian spirit.

Around Estadio do Maracana, a snarling Checkpoint Charlie greets spectators.

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