By Rodrigo Viga Gaier
RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - Brazilian football will kick off again in Rio de Janeiro this week after the city's mayor gave the go ahead for the local league to start after a three-month hiatus caused by the new coronavirus.
However, the decision was heavily criticised by players from Fluminense, who said "there was no plausible explanation for an immediate restart" of the Rio state championship.
"We don't feel comfortable putting more lives at risk," several players said in a statement posted on Twitter.
The statement came a few hours after Mayor Marcelo Crivella gave the green light to restart the Rio state championship, one of the most important in Brazil.
The first game is scheduled for the Maracana stadium on Thursday, when reigning champions Flamengo take on Bangu. Like most leagues restarting this month, no fans will be allowed into the ground.
However, Crivella asked the state football federation not to sanction teams that were refusing to play on health and safety grounds.
Botafogo and Fluminense, two of the biggest clubs in the city, both said they will not play this week. Botafogo asked for more time to prepare and offered to restart their campaign in July.
"Our appeal is that the clubs who think they shouldn’t return are not punished, the opening phase is not obligatory," Crivella told reporters.
"If a player that is obliged to return turns up tomorrow with COVID-19 and dies then people are going to say, we came back too soon."
The decision comes as Brazil continues to struggle to control the spread of the virus. The Health Ministry announced 1,269 more fatalities on Wednesday, taking the overall death toll to 46,510.
Brazil has recorded more deaths from the virus than any country in the world outside the United States.
(Writing by Andrew Downie; editing by Ken Ferris/Peter Rutherford)