Asucion – South America’s largest football tournament, the Copa America, was shifted Monday from Argentina, battling a coronavirus surge, to even harder-hit Brazil, bracing for a third pandemic wave.
With two weeks to kick-off, South America’s football federation tweeted Monday that “The Conmebol Copa America 2021 will be played in Brazil!” and the June 13-July 10 date maintained.
The move was met with consternation in many quarters.
Brazil is one of the countries in the world worst affected by the coronavirus outbreak, with the second-highest death toll of over 460,000 so far among its 212 million people, and more than 16.5 million cases.
But Brazil’s vice president Hamilton Mourao said hosting the tournament in his country posed “less risk” than in Argentina, which is enduring its worst moment in the epidemic.
“The advantage is the size of our country and the number of stadiums. They can distribute” the matches throughout Brazil, he said, thus limiting contagion risk.
The tournament will be played without fans.
Conmebol president Alejandro Dominguez said “the government of Brazil has demonstrated agility and a capacity for decision-making in a crucial moment for South American football.
Argentines didn’t want it
“Brazil is experiencing a moment of stability, has proven infrastructure and accumulated and recent experience to host a competition of this magnitude,” he said.
Brazil hosted the 2014 Football World Cup and the last Copa America, in 2019.
Argentina was to have co-hosted the 2021 South American football spectacle, already postponed from last year due to the pandemic, with Colombia.
But it was left on its own after Conmebol disqualified its partner nation over deadly social unrest that has now entered its fifth week and claimed dozens of lives in Colombia.
On Sunday, Conmebol also scrapped Argentina’s hosting duties as the country battles a record epidemic surge that has seen a daily death toll of about 500 on average, and between 21,000 and 40,000 new cases per day.
The country of 45 million people has recorded more than 77,000 deaths in the pandemic to date and nearly 3.8 million infections.
On May 22, Argentina entered a nine-day lockdown in the hopes of flattening the infection curve ahead of the massive sports event.
The country had presented a “strict protocol” to Conmebol for hosting the tournament, which involved preparing additional stadiums and reducing the size of each team’s delegation.
But a poll last week found that 70 per cent of Argentinians believed the country should withdraw, and Conmebol agreed.
“Conmebol informs that in view of the current circumstances it has decided to suspend the organization of the Copa America in Argentina,” the governing body tweeted.
Argentina’s President Alberto Fernandez said Monday the country was “on epidemiological alert.”
His chief of staff, Santiago Cafiero, added that “with so many cases we could not carry out an organization of these characteristics. Argentina had a commitment that we tried at all times to meet, but the epidemiological reality prevented it.”
In Brazil, infectious diseases expert Jose David Urbaez said the tournament should have been cancelled.
“An event of this magnitude mobilizes countless people even if the matches are without an audience. And mobility increases the transmission of the virus. This will be a very significant component in… the resurgence of the pandemic,” he told AFP.
Brazil’s Fiocruz research institute has warned of a new surge in the pandemic in the country already hard hit by a more infectious new strain.
Opposition congressman Marcelo Freixo was among the first to denounce the latest move.
“Argentina refused the Copa America because of the worsening pandemic. There, the average of deaths in the last seven days was 470 people… Here, it’s 1,844. FOUR TIMES MORE. This is a picture of a murderous government.”
Added sports commentator Alexandre Lozetti, of TV Globo on the same platform: “Suggestions for a mascot for the Copa America in Brazil? How about Covidinho (Little Covid)?”
Uruguay’s team, through captain Diego Godin, said it would need “guarantees and peace of mind” to participate in the Copa in Brazil.
Conmebol is expected to announce venues and dates for the matches soon. — AFP