The surprise decision to award Brazil hosting rights for the Copa America, South America’s biggest international football tournament, with just 12 days until the start date is drawing widespread criticism.
Brazil has suffered more than 465,000 Covid-19 deaths – the second highest death toll in the world – and there is an ongoing inquiry into President Jair Bolsonaro’s handling of the pandemic.
The rapporteur of that inquiry, Brazilian Senator Renan Calheiros, referred to the Copa America as the “Championship of Death” on Tuesday and called on Brazil national team star Neymar to not take part in the tournament.
“Neymar, do not take the field in this Copa America, while your friends, your relatives, your acquaintances continue to die and the vaccine does not reach our country,” Calheiros told Radio Eldorado.
“This is not the championship we need to compete in. We have to compete in the vaccination championship. It is in this championship that you need to score goals, so that our score is changed.
“On this score [vaccination], we are in the last [few] places. In the ‘death championship,’ we are in second place, with the second highest number of deaths in the world,” he added. “The Brazilian team cannot agree with this. ICUs and cemeteries are full. Under what conditions are we going to celebrate a goal for Brazil?”
According to the World Health Organization, 60 million vaccine doses have been administered in Brazil.
The 2020 edition of the Copa America was postponed by a year due to the coronavirus pandemic and was set to be held in both Argentina and Colombia between June 13 and July 10, the first time in tournament history it was to be jointly hosted.
However, Colombia was stripped of its co-hosting responsibilities on May 20 following protests across the country that were sparked by a controversial fiscal reform introduced by President Iván Duque, before Argentina followed suit on May 31.
CONMEBOL, South America’s football confederation, did not specify why the tournament had been removed from Argentina, but the country is suffering from a rise in coronavirus cases, with a seven-day average of more than 30,000 new daily cases, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
Bolsonaro announced that the Copa America will be hosted in Brazil’s Federal District and the states of Rio de Janeiro, Mato Grosso and Goiás and said all four state governors had agreed to host the tournament.
FIFPro, the worldwide players’ union, says it has “serious concerns” about the Copa America being relocated with such little time to prepare and will support any players that decide it is unsafe to compete.
“The latest plan to arrange – at extremely short notice – for hundreds of footballers to compete in a tournament of such complexity leaves open uncertainty for each and every one of them, and their families,” FIFPro said in a statement.
“As with previous national team competitions during the COVID-19 emergency period, players must be able to prioritize their own and their families’ health without the risk of sanctions.”
Peru head coach Ricardo Gareca, who guided the team to the final in 2019 where it lost to host Brazil, said it seems unfair from a sporting perspective for one country to host back-to-back tournaments.
“I believe that all of South America is having problems,” he told reporters at Peru’s pre-match press conference. “I don’t believe there is a country in South America that has no problems with the pandemic.
“I don’t think that the Copa América takes place in the country where it was played previously, not so much because of the pandemic. The pandemic is everywhere.”
Chile, along with Ecuador and the United States, was one of the countries touted to step in an host the Copa America after Argentina was stripped of hosting responsibilities.
The Chilean national team won consecutive Copa America titles in 2015 and 2016, but the decision to press ahead with the tournament has not been supported in many areas of the country.
Matias Walker, the representative for Chile’s fifth district, said Chile should consider not sending a team at all.
“The Chilean Football Federation, the ANFP, have to seriously evaluate whether or not to expose the national teams, the officials, workers and the directors themselves to travel to a long tournament in a country like Brazil, which at the moment is the epicenter of infections and deaths on the continent,” he said.
“And which has been an example of government irresponsibility through the Bolsonaro government, where new variants appear every week.”