Rio protest highlights football's troubled return in Brazil

Soccer Football - Carioca Championship - Botafogo v Cabofriense - Nilton Santos Stadium, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil - June 28, 2020 General view of the players during a minute's silence before the match, following the resumption of play behind closed doors after the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) REUTERS/Ricardo Moraes

RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - The Rio de Janeiro state championship restarted once again on Sunday as Botafogo -- one of the clubs opposed to what they see as a premature resumption of top-level football -- took the field with a banner protesting the decision.

The move to get back underway in Rio has focused attention on the wider confusion surrounding football's stop-start status in the South American nation.

Although many clubs are back in training, only Rio has restarted its state league as the daily number of dead and infected due to the new coronavirus remains high.

Worried about the health and safety repercussions, the Botafogo playes carried a banner declaring, “The Best Protocol is Respecting Lives”.

Before beating Cabofriense 6-2, the Rio side’s players also took a knee in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, whose motto they wore on their shirts.

The match, one of five due to be played this weekend in the Rio state league, comes 10 days after reigning champions Flamengo restarted the competition with a closed-doors win over Bangu.

However, a full resumption was halted after just two games when some clubs refused to play.

Botafogo and city rivals Fluminense went to court to delay the restart and although they lost, they won the backing of Rio Mayor Marcelo Crivella, who used his decree powers to push back the start date.

The state football federation reluctantly agreed to move matches back a week to this weekend.

Fluminense players issued a joint statement saying the resumption “made no sense,” while Botafogo’s biggest names were equally critical.

Coach Paulo Autuori was banned for two weeks on Friday after calling the federation directors “feudal”.

The club’s marquee signing, Japanese forward Keisuke Honda, asked on June 17, a day after 1,282 people were reported dead from coronavirus in Brazil, “Am I crazy that I want to know a logical reason why we restart the league?"

The federation nevertheless pushed forward with the restart, although Brazil’s other state leagues are yet to set dates for a new kick off.

The historically important state leagues usually take place in the first few months of each year, with the national championships beginning in May and running until December.

The states suspended their competitions in March as the coronavirus spread.

In Sao Paulo, the country’s biggest and richest state league, teams began training again this week.

However, some clubs only tested their players for COVID-19 after they restarted training. At Corinthians, eight members of the first-team squad tested positive on returning from their enforced break.

Some 57,070 people have died in Brazil from COVID-19, more than any other nation bar the United States. Around 1,000 people are still dying each day.

No date has been set for a resumption of matches in the other state competitions, although clubs in Rio Grande do Sul and Minas Gerais, two of the other important states, restarted training weeks ago.

The Brazilian Football Confederation has proposed a new start date of Aug. 9 for Serie A, the national first division. Final confirmation must come from government officials.

(Writing by Andrew Downie)

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