Copa America opens in Brazil amid COVID crisis

Copa America opens in Brazil amid COVID crisis

After uncertainty over which country would host it, a Brazilian Supreme Court hearing on its possible postponement and coronavirus infections reported by three teams, the long-delayed Copa America football tournament has opened in the Brazilian capital .
Host nation Brazil opened the international match against Venezuela at 6:00 p.m. local time (9:00 p.m. GMT) on Sunday at an empty Mane Garrincha stadium in Brasilia.

The opening game comes just days after local health officials reported that Venezuelan players and staff tested positive for COVID-19, which has ravaged Brazil and killed more than 486,000.

A total of 13 members of the Venezuelan national team delegation tested positive for the virus, including coaching staff, South American football confederation CONMEBOL said.

Bolivia later said three of their players and a coach also tested positive and were in isolation ahead of their team’s debut against Paraguay on Monday. On Sunday, two members of the Colombian delegation also tested positive.

The Copa America has been plagued by uncertainty as the tournament was delayed for 12 months due to the pandemic and the original co-hosts Colombia and Argentina were forced to withdraw due ongoing social unrest in the first and surging COVID-19 infections in the second.

CONMEBOL announced late last month that Brazil would host the tournament, raising new questions and concerns about whether the event would exacerbate the current coronavirus crisis in the South American nation.

Al Jazeera’s Monica Yanakiew, in a report from Rio de Janeiro on Sunday, said Brazil is expected to hit the grim milestone of half a million coronavirus deaths during or immediately after the tournament.

The country has reported more than 486,000 deaths and more than 17.3 million cases to date, according to a Johns Hopkins University tally – and health experts have warned another wave of the pandemic is possible.

Copa America also comes in connection with an ongoing parliamentary inquiry into how the far-right government of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has handled the pandemic, Yanakiew said.

Brazilian far-right president Jair Bolsonaro defended the organization of the tournament [File: Ueslei Marcelino/Reuters]

“Every day during the congressional inquiry, people discuss why the government has downplayed the importance of the virus. The president himself does not wear masks, organizes rallies, has crowds, says masks are not necessary, says social distancing is not necessary. It is the backdrop to this sporting event, ”she said.

Bolsonaro, a coronavirus skeptic who was fined $ 108 by the state of Sao Paulo on Saturday for failing to wear a mask during a motorcycle rally with many of his supporters, had insisted the Copa America continues.

“There are special interests in making the Copa America happen,” sociologist Rodrigo Moreira of the Federal University of Fluminense told AFP news agency.

“The government wants to show that the country is ready to welcome it, when in reality it is not. And [organisers] want to secure their profits ”from television rights and sponsorship deals, said Moreira.

Epidemiologists, staff from the parliamentary coronavirus inquiry, as well as some players and coaches, had raised concerns that Brazil is hosting the tournament.

The country’s Supreme Court, however, ruled on Friday that the Copa America could take place, but judges ordered authorities to take additional security measures.

“It falls to [state governors and mayors] to define the appropriate health protocols and to ensure their respect in order to avoid a “Copavirus”, with new infections and the emergence of new variants “, wrote the judge Carmen Lucia in her decision.

Protesters hold a sign that reads “Bolsonaro out” during a demonstration against the Copa America in front of the Mane Garrincha stadium, where the opening match of the tournament between Brazil and Venezuela will take place, in Brasilia on June 13. [Sergio Lima/AFP]


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