By Carlos Meneses
Sao Paulo, May 31 (EFE).- Brazil, a country where nearly a half-million deaths are attributed to Covid-19 and numbers of new daily cases and fatalities are still the second-most globally, will be hosting this year’s Copa America after Colombia and then Argentina backed out.
The decision was slammed by the Brazilian political left and health-care community in the region’s largest country and could even be shot down in the courts.
Colombia and Argentina were initially slated to co-host this year’s edition of South America’s soccer championship, but the former was unable to follow through due to violent anti-government protests and the latter stepped aside due to the critical situation at its hospitals amid a spike in coronavirus cases.
Finally, South America’s soccer confederation (Conmebol) announced that Brazil would be the sole host and thanked rightist President Jair Bolsonaro, who last year notoriously dismissed the coronavirus as a “measly flu,” for opening his country’s doors to the Copa America, which is scheduled to run from June 13 to July 10.
That decision was announced two days after tens of thousands of Brazilians took to the streets in protest against the Bolsonaro administration’s handling of the pandemic.
With more than 462,000 deaths attributed to Covid-19 (second-most after the United States) and around 16.5 million confirmed cases (third-most after the US and India) since the onset of the pandemic, Brazil has been the Latin American country hardest-hit by the coronavirus.
The Bolsonaro government’s decision also contrasts with a 1918 move by the Brazilian government of that era to postpone its hosting of this tournament, then known as the South American Football Championship, due to a spike in Spanish flu cases.
Brazil’s main opposition Workers’ Party (PT) – led by former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silvaz – led the way in opposing the change in venue.
“Is this serious? In the middle of the pandemic, the arrival of the third wave, with the risk of a lack of beds and medical supplies and with a slow vaccination (drive). Incredible!” PT Chair Gleisi Hoffmann wrote on social media.
A lawmaker for the opposition Brazilian Socialist Party, Julio Delgado, said for his part that he will file a lawsuit with the Supreme Court in a bid to prevent Brazil from hosting the event.
Opposition to the move also has come from the center-right.
Sen. Renan Calheiros, who heads up a committee investigating possible “omissions” on the part of Bolsonaro’s government in fighting the pandemic, called the Copa America the “championship of death” and referred to the government, Conmebol and Brazil’s soccer confederation as a “deniers’ syndicate.”
Disease experts consulted by Efe also staunchly oppose the idea of holding the Copa America in Brazil, where the rate of new infections has started to grow once again after a brief respite of a few weeks.
“It’s the decision of a psychopath. It’s completely crazy,” said Raquel Stucchi, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Campinas and a consultant at the Brazilian Society of Infectious Diseases.
Over the past week, Brazil has reported an average of around 62,000 new daily confirmed cases and roughly 2,000 deaths per day attributed to Covid-19.
Although doubt remains over which cities will host Copa America matches, the government of the northeastern state of Pernambuco has already said it is not prepared to serve as one of the venues.
But Ibaneis Rocha – the governor of the Federal District, which includes Brasilia – said he has “nothing against” that possibility.
Joao Doria, the governor of coronavirus-battered Sao Paulo state and a frequent critic of Bolsonaro’s handling of the pandemic, likewise did not rule out the idea but said his priority is to “save lives.” EFE