The decision to award Brazil hosting rights for the Copa America, South America’s biggest international football tournament, with only 12 days until the tournament’s start date has sparked outrage.
More than 465,000 people have died as a result of Covid-19 in Brazil, making it the world’s second-highest death toll, and an investigation into President Jair Bolsonaro’s handling of the pandemic is ongoing.
On Tuesday, the report’s rapporteur, Brazilian Senator Renan Calheiros, dubbed the Copa America the “Championship of Death” and urged Brazil national team star Neymar to boycott 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?”
Argentina and Colombia were set to co-host the Copa America before both were stripped of their hosting rights.
Brazil has received 60 million vaccine doses, according to the World Health Organization.
The Copa America was set to be held in both Argentina and Colombia between June 13 and July 10, 2020, after being postponed by a year due to the coronavirus pandemic. This would be the first time the tournament had been jointly hosted.
However, Colombia was stripped of its co-hosting duties on May 20 as a result of nationwide protests sparked by President Iván Duque’s controversial fiscal reform, and Argentina followed suit on May 31.
CONMEBOL, South America’s football federation, did not say why the tournament was canceled in Argentina, but the country is experiencing an increase in coronavirus cases, with more than 30,000 new cases reported every seven days, according to Johns Hopkins University data.
Bolsonaro announced that the Copa America will be held in the Federal District of Brazil, as well as the states of Rio de Janeiro, Mato Grosso, and Goiás, with all four state governors agreeing to host the tournament.
“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’s head coach, Ricardo Gareca, who led his team to the 2019 World Cup final, where they were defeated by host Brazil, believes it is unfair from a sporting standpoint 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 tipped to take over hosting duties for the Copa America after Argentina was stripped of the honor.
In 2015 and 2016, Chile’s national team won consecutive Copa America titles, but the decision to continue with the tournament was met with opposition in many parts of the country.
Chile should consider not sending a team at all, according to Matias Walker, the representative for Chile’s fifth district.
“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.”