Flamengo must do better to help families, fans heal following tragic fire
Last Sunday, Rodolfo Landim, the president of Flamengo, held a media conference to explain the position and conduct of his club in the wake of the fire at their training ground that killed 10 youth players. It was an emergency move, a bid to improve the club's communication after what was widely seen as two extremely poor weeks of post-tragedy administration.
This emphatically is not the scenario Landim envisioned when he took over as president on Dec. 19, 2018.
There were grounds to believe that 2019 would be Flamengo's year. They are a huge institution with a nationwide support base. For many years, though, they have been hampered by financial problems and haunted by the glory days of the Zico generation, who won the Copa Libertadores and Intercontinental trophy in 1981.
The previous administration got the finances in order. It was the time to go chasing those titles. Big investments were made in the squad. In have come, amongst others, one-time wonderkid Gabriel "Gabigol" Barbosa at centre-forward, Uruguay international playmaker Giorgian De Arrascaeta and centre-back Rodrigo Caio. Landim surely imagined himself in the photo as the team celebrated lifting the Libertadores, the Brazilian league or the cup.
It might still happen. Sunday's 4-1 win over Americano in the Rio State Championship was a step in the right direction, albeit against very poor opposition. There were signs, though, that coach Abel Braga is just starting to get the parts to click. Gabigol scored his first goal in the club's famous red and black shirt, De Arrascaeta played himself nicely into the game in the second half, and all in all, it was a useful morale boost for the Libertadores campaign, which gets underway next week.
All of this, however, is clearly overshadowed by the magnitude of the tragedy of Feb. 8, when 10 young lives were lost -- lives that had been entrusted to the club.
Landim was at the scene of the disaster that Friday morning, and he described it as the biggest blow in the club's 123-year history.
But he was not present on Thursday at the meeting with the families of the victims in a bid to agree on a process of financial compensation. Vice president Rodrigo Dunshee was there -- but explained that he had other tasks to fulfill and left after a few minutes. This was a catastrophic error. Given that Landim had acknowledged the gravity of the situation, there could be no more important commitment for those who represent the club than to be at that meeting. The families of the victims left the meeting making angry statements to the media.
Success, as they say, has a thousand mothers, while failure is an orphan. No one wants to be the face of disaster, and this is an administration that took charge less than two months before the tragedy. But no one forced the Flamengo directors into the positions they now hold. With the bonus comes the onus -- the requirement to do the right thing in such a difficult time.
Prior to Sunday, the club had limited itself to a handful of declarations and official statements. There had been one news conference, with space for just three questions. This, in part, is a consequence of a new board of directors trying to get on top of the situation, attempting to establish, for example, the legal position of the training ground, which had repeatedly been fined for breaches of local legislation. In part, too, it has come from the desire of the club to protect itself, to avoid saying something that could have legal consequences down the line.
But in the emotional aftermath of such a tragedy, the tone of what is said matters as much as the content. And Flamengo got the tone wrong. This was much more than a disagreement about the amount of compensation to be paid. It was a time for public contrition -- to be sorry and to be seen as sorry for the loss of 10 lives. The context, with all the money recently spent on acquiring players, is especially unfavourable to the image of the club.
By showing his face and answering some questions on Sunday, president Landim might have helped calm things. Indeed, in addition to improving relations with the families, he was seeking to bolster the image of the club with its fans, many of whom have been critical of Flamengo's conduct the past two weeks.
One word, though, continues to stick in the craw. On Sunday, Landim reaffirmed his belief that the deadly fire had been a "fatalidade," a Portuguese word that holds the connotation of an unavoidable accident. This is surely not acceptable. A fire in the open air started by a bolt of lightning might be described in such terms. But for this to take place in an indoor environment can be only the consequence of a slip-up -- with heartbreaking results.