SAO PAULO (AP) — Copa America is without a host country only two weeks before kickoff after South American soccer body CONMEBOL ruled out Argentina amid an increase in COVID-19 cases in the country.
The announcement Sunday night casts doubt on a tournament which has faced major hurdles since the start of the pandemic in March of last year.
CONMEBOL said on Twitter — and it was later confirmed by an official — that it was analyzing “the offer of other nations who showed interest in hosting the continental tournament,” without naming them. It also said a new host will be announced “soon.”
Copa America is scheduled to be played between June 13 and July 10. South American teams are already training for the tournament and two rounds of World Cup qualifiers are starting this week.
Like other continental tournaments, Copa America was initially scheduled for 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic forced its postponement. But difficulties mounted as the virus continued to strike the region hard and vaccine rollout remained slow.
Argentina is facing a surge of coronavirus infections, with strict lockdown measures imposed last weekend amid a seven-day average of 35,000 cases and 500 deaths. More than 77,000 people have died in the country due to the disease, as the virus continues to spread.
Colombia was dropped as a tournament co-host on May 20 amid a wave of protests against President Iván Duque.
Argentinian President Alberto Fernández said last week that his country was ready to host the entire tournament after the decision to remove Colombia. But on Sunday that situation changed.
“It is very hard that Copa America is played in Argentina due to the epidemiologic alert situation,” said Wado de Pedro, the country's interior minister, in an interview to TV C5N.
The original idea of this Copa America was to start a new format with five teams based in each of the host countries. Group A features Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay; Group B includes Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela. The four best teams in each group would advance to the knockout stage, and the final was originally set to played in Colombia's Barranquilla.
It would have been the first Copa America hosted by two countries.
Qatar, the 2022 World Cup hosts, and Australia, both scheduled to play as guests, decided in February to withdraw also due to the coronavirus pandemic.
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Mauricio Savarese, The Associated Press