Amid outcry surrounding Brazil's ongoing COVID-19 crisis, a member of President Jair Bolsonaro's cabinet confirmed on Tuesday that the nation has agreed to host this month's Copa America.
Brazil is now scheduled to host South America's quadrennial soccer championship, scheduled to take place June 13 through July 10. It's the world's oldest international soccer tournament, dating back to 1916.
Tournament moved from Colombia, Argentina amid crises
The tournament was postponed from 2020 at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and rescheduled to take place in Colombia and Argentina. Organizing committee CONMEBOL removed Colombia as co-host in May amid ongoing political unrest and protests of President Ivan Duque that have turned violent.
The tournament was then slated to take place exclusively in Argentina. But CONMEBOL announced on Sunday that it was moving the tournament from the country as it experiences its own surging COVID-19 crisis. That decision left Copa America without a host 13 days from its scheduled start.
Brazil to host despite ongoing COVID-19 emergency
On Monday, CONMEBOL announced that Brazil would host the tournament starting June 13. On Tuesday, Bolsonaro's Chief of Staff Luiz Ramos confirmed the decision, writing on Twitter that Brazil "could not turn its back on a traditional championship like this one." Four venues across the country are scheduled to host games without public spectators, according to the announcement.
The decision was met with sharp rebuke as the nation with the second-highest confirmed COVID-19 death toll continues to wallow in the deadly pandemic. Bolsonaro's policies are widely blamed for allowing the pandemic to persist. The right-wing extremist has resisted calls for lockdowns and overseen a slow-rolling vaccine program.
COVID-19 in Brazil, by the numbers
As of Tuesday, Brazil had confirmed more than 16.5 million cases of COVID-19 (third-highest in the world) and 462,000 deaths attributed to the coronavirus, per Johns Hopkins data.
Unlike the United States, which leads the world in confirmed cases and deaths, Brazil is showing little progress in tamping down the pandemic, with new daily confirmed cases hovering around 80,000 and daily deaths ranging from 2,400 to more than 4,000 in recent weeks.
Critics condemn Bolsonaro over COVID, Copa America
As protesters denounce Bolsonaro over the general state of the pandemic, critics have condemned the president over the Copa America decision. Brazilian Senator Renan Calheiros dubbed the upcoming tournament as the "championship of death” and urged stars like Neymar to refuse to play “while your relatives and acquaintances continue to die," The Guardian reports.
Brazilian sports writer Juca Kfouri called the tournament the "Grave of the Americas."
“There is no justification for bringing nine South American teams, and potentially new variants, to one of the epicentres[sic] of the pandemic, wasting resources and attention that should be directed towards our thousands of infected patients,” Kfouri wrote.
CONMEBOL president Alejandro Domínguez, meanwhile, lauded Bolsonaro for the decision in a tweet.
"I want to especially thank the President Jair Bolsonaro and his cabinet for hosting the oldest national team tournament in the world," Domínguez wrote.
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