SAO PAULO: Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro wants the Copa America football tournament to be held in his country this month, despite the raging coronavirus pandemic.
The right-wing leader and his government are under fire from lawmakers and health experts for saying on Tuesday that they want to host the event, even though Brazil has the second deaths due to COVID-19.
The South American football body CONMEBOL chose Brazil as a replacement host on Monday after Argentina was abandoned due to the spread of the virus in that country. The other co-host, Colombia, was removed on May 20 amid street protests against the country’s president, Ivan Duque.
Bolsonaro chief of staff Luiz Eduardo Ramos doubted the event on Monday, but Bolsonaro said he and his ministers agreed that Brazil could host the tournament despite the country’s low vaccination rate.
“If it depends on the federal government, the Copa America will take place in Brazil,” Bolsonaro said in Brasilia. “I was asked by the Brazilian Football Federation yesterday. For our part, it’s all positive. Whatever depends on me, the cabinet ministers, including our health minister, it certainly is. That will happen. “
More than 463,000 people have died with COVID-19 in Brazil, the second largest after the United States. Analysts expect another wave of the disease to hit the country by the end of June. Many hospitals have more than 80% of their intensive care units infected.
Thousands marched in the streets of more than 80 cities on Saturday against Bolsonaro.
CONMEBOL said the Copa America in Brazil starts on June 13 and ends on July 10, as planned in the previous format. None of the host cities have been announced, but some governors and mayors have already competed against the tournament. Others said matches could only take place under strict health protocols.
The Brazilian football confederation did not respond to a request for comment from The Associated Press.
South American teams are already training for the tournament and there are some World Cup qualifiers scheduled for this week.
Like other continental tournaments, Copa America was initially scheduled for 2020, but the coronavirus pandemic had to postpone it.
Lawmakers and political parties say they will take Bolsonaro’s decision to host the tournament in court. Some of them are also mounting pressure in a Senate inquiry into the president’s handling of the pandemic.
Sen. Renan Calheiros appealed to Neymar, Brazil, at Tuesday’s meeting.
“Neymar, I want to send you a word. Disagree with this Copa America in Brazil. This is not the championship we have to play now. We have to play the championship of vaccination, ”said Calheiros. “You need to score some goals for this scoreboard to change.”
Less than 11% of the Brazilian population is fully vaccinated, according to Our World in Data, an online research website.
The chairman of the inquiry, Senator Omar Aziz, agreed that Brazil should not host the Copa America. The country hosted the tournament in 2019 and its national team won the title.
‘If Brazil wins it, what will it change for us right now? We have nothing to celebrate, we have a lot to be sorry about, ” Aziz said.
Senator Eduardo Girão, a close ally of Bolsonaro, was one of the few who defended the decision.
“There’s a big politicization of the tournament,” Girão said. “We have to celebrate that Copa America is coming here again. This is not a random tournament. ”