Brazil stepped in on Monday to host the upcoming Copa America soccer tournament, despite suffering one of the world’s worst coronavirus crises and facing an impending third wave of the disease.
The competition – which was already postponed once last year – is set to begin in the coming weeks.
“The oldest national team tournament in the world will make the entire continent shake,” tweeted CONMEBOL, the South American Football Association, thanking Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro for his “immediate support” to the competition.
Latin America and the Caribbean has been one of the regions of the world hardest hit by Covid-19, with more than a million people dying of the disease and tens of millions more affected by the economic fallout. The region is responsible for 30 percent of all global deaths from the pandemic.
In Brazil alone, more than 460,000 citizens died, the second highest death toll in the world in absolute numbers after the United States. In per capita numbers, the country ranks eighth.
Brazil’s decision to host the tournament sparked ridicule and mockery from critics and politicians, as many indicated that it would increase the spread of the Corona virus and compare it to the upcoming Tokyo Olympics, which is causing panic in Japan.
“Is Bolsonaro serious? Amid the pandemic, the arrival of the third wave, the risks of a lack of beds and supplies and a slowdown in vaccinations? Incredible,” said Gliese Hoffman, head of the opposition Labor Party.
Paulo Camara, the governor of the northeastern state of Pernambuco, said the state would not allow any games to be held there.
Despite enduring a brutal second wave just months ago, scientists and doctors in Latin America’s largest country sounded the alarm about a possible new spike after case numbers plummet. The seven-day average daily new cases rose to more than 61,000 on Sunday, compared to 56,000 a month ago.
Meanwhile, neighboring Argentina is in the midst of a second wave.
“With so many cases, we were not able to move forward with organizing a tournament like this,” said Santiago Cafiero, head of the cabinet in the Argentine government. “We committed to regulating it, we tried to keep our promise, but the epidemic reality prevented us.”
About 70 percent of Argentines oppose holding the tournament in the country, according to a poll by Poliarquia
In Colombia, President Ivan Duque asked CONMEBOL to postpone the tournament until November due to continuing protests against his government. Some matches were scheduled to take place in the city Caliwhich became the epicenter of the protests.
CONMEBOL refused and said it would look for an alternative venue.
The hosting of the Copa America is usually decided in alphabetical order, although there have been several changes to the tournament format in its 105-year history. Brazil last hosted and won in 2019.
Additional reporting by Carolina Police