RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil: FIFA’s Organizing Committee on Monday confirmed Manaus as a sixth city chosen to host soccer action at next year’s Rio Olympics.
There had been fears in Brazil that the 41,000-capacity Amazonia Arena, built for last year’s World Cup at a cost of $270 million, would end up as a “white elephant” as Manaus boasts no top flight football club to fill it.
Moreover, FIFA had initially indicated it opposed staging matches some 3000km (1870 miles) away from the host city.
But world soccer’s governing body relented amid concern over whether pitches in Rio and fellow World Cup venues Brasilia, Belo Horizonte, Sao Paulo and Salvador would stand up to multiple use in early rounds.
“The Olympic Football Tournaments will be a fantastic opportunity to revive the great atmosphere seen during the 2014 FIFA World Cup, not only in Rio de Janeiro but also in the other five cities,” said Marco Polo Del Nero, chairman of the Organizing Committee for the Olympic Football Tournaments.
Del Nero, who will next month assume the presidency of the Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF), said the Games were an opportunity to use the World Cup infrastructure “to unite the country for a major event once more.
“I am confident that the participating teams will have an unforgettable Olympic experience,” Del Nero added.
Rio 2016 President Carlos Nuzman, who last month said the first ever Olympics to be staged in South America must be the “Games of Brazil” and not just Rio.
“The inclusion of Manaus in the Rio 2016 Olympic schedule will enrich the tournament with a visit of the football players to one of the most iconic locations in the world,” Nuzman said after a FIFA Organising Committee meeting in Zurich.
The 58-match football tournament will be staged at seven stadiums in six cities.
Rio will see opening week action at the Olympic stadium, also known as Engenhao and which reopened earlier this year for Rio league action after undergoing two years of repairs, as well as the Maracana. The Engenhao will also stage track and field events.
Sao Paulo’s Corinthians Arena has also been chosen despite cost fears expressed by city authorities.
With 16 men’s and 12 women’s teams competing FIFA had judged the initially proposed four-city structure could mean some stadiums hosting more than one match a day during the August 3-20 football event.
The women’s qualifiers kickoff on August 3 with men’s action starting a day later as Brazil’s men, five-time world champions, target the only major crown still to elude them. The Selecao lost the 2012 final to Mexico at Wembley.
The legendary Maracana, which hosted Germany’s World Cup final win over Argentina in July, is scheduled to host semi-final and final matches, the latter the day before the Games’ closing ceremony.
Men’s Olympic football features players aged up to 23 plus three over-age players while there is no age limit for the women.