Controversial banner takes centre stage in Rio derby

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RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - Flamengo beat Botafogo 1-0 on Saturday but the derby match was overshadowed by a controversy over Flamengo’s threat to take the home side to court over a banner on display at their Rio de Janeiro stadium.

With the stands empty because of the coronavirus pandemic, Botafogo draped banners around the seats with one reading: “We Care About Lives Here”.

Flamengo’s vice-president publicly asked the Botafogo president to remove the “aggressive” banner and hinted that if he did not he would take the matter to Brazil’s sporting tribunal.

The banner remained in place during the game at Rio’s Olympic stadium, which Flamengo won with a second-half goal from Everton Ribeiro.

Local news reports speculated that Flamengo’s unhappiness concerned a long-running court dispute over how much the club must pay the families of 10 youths killed in a February 2019 fire at their training ground.

Flamengo appealed against the original ruling and a court last week halved the amount of pension the club must pay families of those who died.

However, the Botafogo supporters’ group who made the banner said it had nothing to do with their rivals but referred to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Botafogo has just signed a sponsorship deal in which the club’s position on the pandemic was crucial (in deciding) the brand that sponsors us,” the group said on Instagram.

Flamengo’s win left them third in Serie A, two points behind leaders Sao Paulo, and left their city rivals in the relegation zone, one spot above last-placed Goias.

(Reporting by Andrew Downie; editing by Clare Fallon)