Brazil on Monday stepped in to host the forthcoming Copa America football tournament, despite suffering one of the world’s worst coronavirus crises and facing a looming third wave of the disease.
The competition — which was already postponed once last year — is due to begin in the coming weeks.
“The oldest national team tournament in the world will make the whole continent vibrate,” tweeted Conmebol, the South American football federation, thanking Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro for his “immediate support” for the competition.
Latin America and the Caribbean has been one of world’s worst hit regions by Covid-19, with more than 1m succumbing to the disease and tens of millions more hit by the economic fallout. The region accounts for 30 per cent of all global fatalities from the pandemic.
In Brazil alone, more than 460,000 citizens have died, the second highest tally in the world in absolute numbers after the US. In per capita figures, the nation ranks eighth.
The decision by Brazil to host the tournament drew ridicule and scorn from pundits and politicians, with many suggesting it will worsen the spread of coronavirus and comparing it with the forthcoming Tokyo Olympics which is causing consternation in Japan.
“Is Bolsonaro serious? Amid the pandemic, the arrival of the third wave, the risk of lack of beds and supplies and with slow vaccinations? Unbelievable,” said Gleisi Hoffmann, the president of the opposition Workers’ party.
Paulo Câmara, the governor of the northeastern state of Pernambuco, said the state would not permit any games to be held there.
Despite enduring a brutal second wave just months ago, scientists and doctors in Latin America’s largest country have already sounded the alarm over a potential fresh spike after a decline in case numbers stalled. The seven-day average of daily new cases was back above 61,000 on Sunday, up from 56,000 a month ago.
Neighbouring Argentina, meanwhile, is in the midst of a second wave.
“With so many cases, we couldn’t go ahead with the organisation of a championship like this,” said Santiago Cafiero, Argentine government’s cabinet chief. “We had committed to organising it, we tried to keep our promise, but the epidemiological reality prevented us.”
Some 70 per cent of Argentines are against holding the tournament in the country, according to a poll by Poliarquia
In Colombia, President Iván Duque asked Conmebol to postpone the tournament until November owing to continuing protests against his government. Some of the matches were due to be played in the city of Cali, which has become the epicentre of the protests.
Conmebol refused and said it would look for an alternative venue.
The hosting of the Copa America is usually decided by alphabetical order, although there have been many changes to the tournament’s format in its 105-year history. The tournament was last hosted — and won — by Brazil in 2019.
Additional reporting by Carolina Pulice