The president of the South American Football Confederation (CONMEBOL), the regional branch of FIFA on the continent, announced on Monday that its Copa América soccer tournament would move from Argentina to Brazil over Chinese coronavirus concerns.
Organizers originally planned to hold the Copa América in 2020 but postponed the event due to the severity of the coronavirus crisis in the chosen host countries, Argentina and Colombia. Last week, CONMEBOL relieved Colombia of hosting duties due to ongoing leftist riots nationwide. Argentina appears to have quietly withdrawn from hosting duties given the announcement from CONMEBOL President Alejandro Domínguez on Monday.
The Copa América, like its analogs in other regions of the world, serves as a preview to the potential results of the FIFA World Cup, set to take place in Qatar in 2022, giving the national teams a chance to showcase their strengths and players typically competing for separate clubs time to work together. Brazil hosted the last Copa América in 2019.
The Brazilian government claimed Monday that it was still in negotiations with CONMEBOL to host the soccer event, after Domínguez made an official announcement thanking conservative President Jair Bolsonaro for agreeing to host two weeks before the event is set to begin. Bolsonaro personally confirmed the news on Tuesday, stating all relevant government agencies were involved in the matter.
Argentina is currently facing a rapidly escalating national coronavirus epidemic despite the socialist government of President Alberto Fernández imposing strict lockdowns on major cities and launching a nationwide vaccination campaign. Argentina was among the first countries in the world to purchase large quantities of “Sputnik V,” a Russian-made vaccine candidate that President Vladimir Putin approved for use prior to the publication of Phase III clinical trial data in August 2020.
Unlike Fernández, Bolsonaro in Brazil has vocally opposed shutting down businesses and implementing lockdown measures though, as Brazil functions under a federal system, regional governors have imposed them. Bolsonaro has resisted by personally organizing mass events and encouraging Brazilians to support local businesses.
The international left has aggressively condemned Bolsonaro for his handling of the pandemic while praising Fernández. Following the second postponement of the tournament in March, ESPN blamed Brazil’s “out of control” coronavirus situation for complicating player travel to the event and potentially resulting in its cancelation.
“The Copa América will be in Brazil!” Domínguez announced on Twitter on Monday. “I want to especially thank President [Jair Bolsonaro] and his cabinet for receiving the oldest selection tournament in the world.”
¡La @CopaAmerica será en Brasil! Quiero agradecer muy especialmente al Presidente @jairbolsonaro y a su gabinete por recibir al torneo de selecciones más antiguo del mundo. Igualmente, mi gratitud al Presidente Rogério Caboclo y a la @CBF_Futebol, por su invalorable colaboración.
— Alejandro Domínguez (@agdws) May 31, 2021
Domínguez also thanked the Argentine president and promised that, “surely, there will be new occasions to bring forward projects alongside Argentina.”
Argentina has documented 3.8 cases of Chinese coronavirus since the pandemic began and over 78,000 deaths. As of Tuesday, Reuters notes that the country is confirming upwards of 31,000 cases of coronavirus a day. In mid-April, that number was closer to 10,000-15,000 cases a day. The federal government began ordering nationwide lockdowns two weeks ago, after Fernández referred to the situation as the “worst moment since the pandemic began” for the country. Mass vaccinations using Sputnik V preceded the lockdowns.
Brazil’s National Health Surveillance Agency (Anvisa), in contrast, banned Sputnik V, claiming that its manufacturer the Gamaleya Institute had been insufficiently transparent with its data to give Anvisa confidence to approve mass use of the product. Anvisa claimed some doses of Sputnik V were not only unhelpful in prompting coronavirus immunity, but caused infections of adenovirus, a pathogen that causes respiratory illness. The Gamaleya Institute announced it would sue Anvisa for defamation in Brazilian courts in April.
On Monday, ESPN reported that, following the announcement, Brasilia clarified that it was not aware that the decision was final. Bolsonaro Chief-of-Staff Luiz Eduardo Ramos told reporters there was “nothing certain” regarding the tournament, though he did appear to confirm that Brazil was finalizing plans, choosing appropriate stadiums, and ironing out logistics.
“This event, if it does happen, will not have an audience,” Ramos asserted, according to the Argentine news organization Infobae. “For now there are ten teams in two groups, there will be 65 people per delegation, everyone vaccinated. The headquarters will be the responsibility of the CBF [Brazilian Football Confederation].”
Bolsonaro personally clarified the issue on Tuesday.
“The Copa América. Yes. I was asked the day before yesterday by the CBF. I spoke to all the relevant ministers,” Bolsonaro said, according to the Brazilian newspaper O Globo. “On our part, it’s a go. Not that it’s my call. It’s all the ministers, including health, they have agreed; it will happen.
The Workers’ Party (PT) of leftist former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, a likely presidential contender against Bolsonaro in 2022 despite being convicted on corruption charges, issued a press release demanding the Brazilian Supreme Court (STF) intervene to stop negotiations between the CONMEBOL and the Brazilian government.
“The realization of the competition, at the last minute and without transparency, is irresponsible and puts the health of the people and foreign delegations at risk,” the PT railed.
During Lula’s tenure, Brazil secured hosting duties for two far larger tournaments, the Rio de Janeiro Summer Olympics and the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Lula defied international health experts’ calls to cancel the 2016 Olympics over an ongoing outbreak of Zika virus in the country at the time and left the city in tremendous debt.