Turbulent South America Soccer Tournament Moves to Brazil

After violent street protests in Colombia and a raging pandemic in Argentina prompted the co-hosts of the Copa America soccer tournament to pull out, the premier South American sports event will be played in Brazil.

About 12 hours after Argentina announced that it wouldn’t host the event, CONMEBOL, the South American soccer association, said that it will move to Brazil.

“The oldest tournament of national teams in the world will make the entire continent shake,” CONMEBOL said on its official Twitter account.

Brazil, which has the second-most Covid-19 deaths and third-most cases in the world, is clearly not a risk-free setting to host the matches. But the local soccer league kicked off its new season last weekend without fans in the stands, and Brazil has few if any limitations to enter the country beyond a negative PCR test. Restrictions are imposed on a local level with the federal government largely advocating for a return to normality despite the sky-high infection and death rates.

CONMEBOL thanked Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and the local soccer association for “opening the doors to the country for what is the safest sports event in the world.”

Yet hours after the announcement, the government said the event was still not confirmed and that talks with Brazilian Football Confederation, which requested the organization of the tournament, were ongoing.

“There’s nothing settled, I want to point out very clearly; we are in the middle of the process”, Chief of Staff Luiz Eduardo Ramos told reporters Monday evening, adding that a final decision will be made on Tuesday. “We won’t reject any request that it’s possible for us to meet.”

The announcement of the tournament triggered a wave of criticism including by Senator Renan Calheiros, who heads a parliamentary commission investigating the government’s policy to fight Covid.

“With over 462,000 fatalities, hosting the Copa America is like a championship of deaths,” he wrote in a Twitter post.

Difficult Host

Argentina’s Interior Minister Eduardo de Pedro said Sunday that it was very difficult for the country to host the soccer event due to the pandemic. Argentina implemented a stricter lockdown on May 21 amid a spike in coronavirus cases.

“We have to be coherent with the current health care situation,” de Pedro said in an interview with C5N TV station.

Seven out of 10 Argentines said the country shouldn’t host the Copa America, according to a poll done by Buenos Aires-based consulting firm Poliarquia.

Brazil’s government, in contrast, has criticized lockdowns implemented by cities and states and Bolsonaro routinely wades into crowds without masks.

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