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Dorm Fire Kills 10 in Brazil, Sending Shudder Through World Soccer

RIO DE JANEIRO — Fire ravaged a temporary dormitory early Friday at a Brazilian training center for young soccer players run by one of South America’s most prominent teams, killing at least 10 people in a disaster that reverberated through the soccer world and beyond.

The fire in the dormitory, which may have been constructed improperly on what was intended to be a parking lot, was the latest in a string of seemingly preventable tragedies that have convulsed Brazil over the past two weeks.

It struck the training center of the Flamengo club in Rio de Janeiro, breaking out in the early morning when many youth players, ages 14 to 17, were asleep. Three other people were injured, one seriously, and were taken to a hospital, officials said.

Flamengo is one of Brazil’s most popular soccer clubs and is considered a symbol of the country’s dominance in the training and development of athletes who aspire to join professional soccer clubs around the world.

Some of Brazil’s biggest stars have played with Flamengo, among them Romário, Ronaldinho and Zico, who represented the country in World Cups, and many others who have played for high-profile teams abroad.

The club’s training center, known as Ninho do Urubu, in the western part of the city, had recently undergone renovations. Rio officials confirmed local news reports that the dormitory had been temporary, erected in an area that was supposed to be a parking lot, with no permits for construction, and was going to be torn down.

“The fire was in my room,” Felipe Cardoso, 15, who plays for the Flamengo youth team, wrote on Twitter. “I have only God to thank for managing to wake up and escape death, may God comfort my brothers.”

President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil, who is hospitalized after intestinal surgery, posted a message on social media: “This morning we were made aware of the sad tragedy in the Flamengo training center, taking the young lives of those who were beginning the path toward the realization of their professional dreams.”

Firefighters said they were alerted to the blaze at 5:17 a.m. local time, and Rio de Janeiro prosecutors said they had created a task force to investigate the cause.

The fire comes two weeks after a dam broke in the most lethal mining disaster in Brazil’s history, and just two days after a powerful summer storm in Rio de Janeiro set off flooding and mudslides, killing six.

The disasters have shocked and saddened Brazilians and have highlighted the country’s shoddy infrastructure and poor emergency response.

“We are seeing a succession of avoidable, preventable facts and disasters, and we must pay attention to them so that the institutions of control, enforcement and punishment really work in Brazil,” the country’s prosecutor general, Raquel Dodge, said in Brasília, the capital, after news of the fire spread.

The blaze also focused attention on living conditions for young Brazilian soccer players, many of whom come from underprivileged backgrounds and live in dormitories like Flamengo’s across the vast country.

“It’s hard to imagine what Flamengo means for these boys,” said Juca Kfouri, a Brazilian sports columnist and author. “In Brazil, there are only two legal paths to social improvement for them: entertainment and soccer. Otherwise it’s a life of crime.”

Mr. Kfouri said he was not familiar with the dormitory at the Flamengo training ground, but he said that living conditions at soccer clubs in Brazil historically were atrocious — including a case in which boys were put up in one dormitory built underneath the stands and another infested with rats.

“Training at Flamengo is realizing your life’s goal,” Mr. Kfouri said. “But now it’s a dream turned into a nightmare.” He added that the death toll in the fire was most likely lower than it could have been because training had been suspended after the widespread flooding in Rio, and some boys had gone home.

Zico, one of Brazil’s soccer legends, sent reporters a video lamenting the tragedy. He said he had met some of the boys who died in the fire. “We ended up getting close to them,” he said. “Boys with dreams, goals, a lot of them trying to help their families.”

Rival clubs expressed sympathy on social media. The messages included one from Chapecoense, which suffered its own tragedy just over two years ago when a plane carrying team members to an international competition ran out of fuel and crashed, killing nearly all of the 77 people on board.

One of soccer’s most recent breakout stars, the Real Madrid forward Vinícius Júnior, who was developed in Flamengo’s youth ranks and lived at the academy, took to Twitter to express his horror at the fire. He wrote that he was in shock and called for prayers.

While Brazil, Latin America’s largest economy, is known for its exports of meat, metal and coffee, nothing garners as much attention as the soccer players it dispatches at a rate unmatched anywhere.

Brazilian players form the backbone of soccer’s $ 7 billion player trading industry. Last year alone 832 players left on overseas adventures, according to data provided by soccer’s global governing body, FIFA.

While a few, like the star forward Neymar, will make it to the biggest stages of the game, most are soccer’s workhorses, providing a Brazilian touch to professional teams from East Timor to the Faroe Islands looking to fill their rosters with reliable, well-coached and relatively cheap talent.

Back home in Brazil, rampant inequality and a lack of other opportunities mean, the supply of young, gifted soccer players looking for a way out of grinding poverty is almost limitless.

Source: NYT > World

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