December 22, 2005

Maradona tried to force way onto plane

By Denis Eduardo Serio

SAO PAULO, Brazil (Reuters) - Argentine soccer great Diego
Maradona was detained at Rio de Janeiro airport on Thursday
after he tried to force his way onto a flight that he was late
for, police and a Brazilian airline said.

Police held Maradona, 45, for several hours in the morning
before releasing him. He boarded a flight to Buenos Aires on
Thursday afternoon.

Maradona, plagued by health problems since he retired in
1997, had played a benefit game organized by ex-Brazilian star
and current Japan coach Zico in Rio de Janeiro on Wednesday.

He arrived late at Tom Jobim International Airport for a
flight back to Argentina and began arguing with the staff of
Brazilian airline TAM, police said.

TAM said the boarding gate was closed when Maradona and
four companions arrived. They damaged a door in the passageway
to the plane and forced open a second door before police
arrived, the airline said in a statement.

Maradona insulted an officer during an ensuing argument,
but there was no physical violence, police chief Marcelo
Nogueira said.

Fellow former Argentina player Alejandro Mancuso, who was
with Maradona, told Argentine radio station Mitre that Maradona
had been well-behaved and was on time for the flight.

"We arrived at the airport with Diego very quiet. We were
in the duty-free shop. When they announced boarding, we
approached and then they closed the plane door in our faces.
The anger was logical and justified," he said.


Mancuso said that when they asked for an explanation, a TAM
staffer called police and four officers arrived with guns
drawn. An Argentine diplomat went to the airport to help
resolve the matter.

Police said that Maradona was released after he agreed to
pay for damaged items. TAM said there was no damage in the VIP
room, contradicting an earlier police report.

Maradona had played for about 80 minutes in Wednesday's
benefit match, which pitted former stars against current
professionals. "Maradona shines," Globo newspaper said in a
front-page headline.

The Argentine is considered one of the greatest players of
all time. But since his retirement in 1997 he has been
bedeviled by cocaine addiction, alcohol abuse and obesity.

Lately he has appeared to be on the mend after several
years in and out of rehabilitation, including a spell in Cuba
where President Fidel Castro befriended him.

Last month he made a surprise appearance in an exhibition
game before a Boca Juniors match, the club he played for as a
youngster before going on to greater fame in Europe.

He led protests against U.S. President George W. Bush when
he attended a summit in Argentina last month. He also has his
own talk show on Argentine television.

In his glory days, Maradona led Argentina to victory in the
1986 World Cup and captained the team in the 1990 tournament,
when it lost in the final.