The Copa America soccer tournament is one of the biggest in the world. It features 12 (sometimes 16) teams mostly from South America and has some of the best soccer played anywhere.
This year, the Copa America was to be hosted by two nations — Columbia and Argentina. But Columbia has political problems and Argentina didn’t think the country could safely host a tournament in the midst of the pandemic.
Leave it to Brazil’s colorful President Jair Bolsonaro to step in and fill the breach, agreeing to host the tournament. The games are being played in empty stadiums. There are severe restrictions on player movement. And everyone gets tested every day.
What could go wrong?
President Jair Bolsonaro’s decision to bring the tournament to Brazil — a country that still is seeing about 2,000 pandemic deaths per day — has been met with protests from residents and players, and a number of sponsors have withdrawn their support. Bolsonaro’s opponents say he made the decision to boost his sagging popularity in the soccer-mad country ahead of next year’s presidential elections, but Brazil’s leader promised the tournament could go on safely.
Indeed, Brazilians are supporting their president’s move, although there are numerous questions about why the soccer federation was able to buy 50,000 doses of the Chinese COVID vaccine with so many people dying every day in Brazil.
CONMEBOL, South America’s governing body for soccer, has insisted that all matches move forward despite the depleted teams, which have had to call up members of their reserve teams to fill out their rosters.
The Brazilian health ministry initially said 31 of the 41 positive tests came from players or coaches and 10 came from hotel workers hired for the event.
Many of the players and coaches testing positive arrived in Brazil already infected.
On Monday, one of the Peru squad’s fitness coaches tested positive for COVID-19 in Lima. Nestor Bonillo will not travel to Brazil. It was not clear whether he was counted by Brazil’s health ministry as one of the confirmed cases related to the tournament.
On the weekend, there was a series of COVID-19 cases related to teams in Brazil for the tournament.
Colombia said technical assistant Pablo Roman and physiotherapist Carlos Entrena have the virus. Hours earlier, Venezuela announced it had summoned 15 new players for the squad at short notice after eight tested positive upon arrival in Brazil. Three additional members of Venezuela’s coaching staff were also infected.
It’s hard to blame Bolsonaro if players and coaches arrive already infected with the coronavirus. And yet, because he opposes social distancing, mask mandates, and economic shutdowns, he will probably be blamed for the positive tests among athletes and coaches.
Still, the people aren’t exactly thrilled with this “Tournament of Death” as one opposition senator put it. Nearly 60 percent of the “soccer-mad” Brazilians oppose hosting the high-profile tournament and public health officials say it’s madness to allow the matches to go forward with 70,000 positive tests every day and 2,000 deaths.
But the players are playing, the fans are watching on TV, and even though some sponsors pulled out in protest, the show goes on.