South America's greatest soccer contest may be moved to Brazil in a last-minute maneuver to save the troubled tournament less than two weeks before kick-off, but Brazilian officials say there is more to consider.
The South American Football Confederation announced that the move was a done deal after a Monday morning emergency meeting. However, following widespread criticism and calls to bring officials before Brazil's Supreme Court, leaders now say the public can expect a final decision on Tuesday.
"Nothing is certain but I want to emphasize very clearly that we are in the middle of this process and we are not going to shirk at a request it might be possible to fulfill," explained Luiz Eduardo Ramos, Brazil's Minister of the Civil House, in a press conference Monday afternoon.
"We are checking details. God willing, tomorrow we will have a final position," Ramos said.
He added that if it goes ahead, teams and their staff will have to follow health guidelines, including being vaccinated. Ramos also said that the competition, which is being called the Cornavirus Cup by critics, would be held in empty stadiums without spectators. The 10 participating teams would be allowed a maximum of 65 people per delegation, Ramos said.
"Nothing is signed. These are only negotiations," he reiterated.
Copa America Drama
The confusion on Monday is just the latest chapter in the chaos leading up to the tournament as much of South America, including Brazil, is in the grips of the global pandemic with some of the world's worst infection and death rates.
The Copa America was set to be hosted by Colombia and Argentina in the first joint tournament in the organization's 105-year history. But Colombia was dropped on May 20 due to anti-government protests sparked by proposed tax raises introduced by President Iván Duque. And on Sunday, the soccer federation, CONMEBOL, removed Argentina as co-host due to the "present circumstances" there.
Although it did not expound on what it meant by the statement, the organization was under growing pressure to move the tournament out of Argentina as that country is experiencing a huge surge in COVID-19 cases. The government has since renewed a strict lockdown.
Brazil is a hot spot for the pandemic
On Sunday, Argentina officials reported more than 39,000 new cases after a week that included a record number of cases in a single day, with more than 77,000 deaths since the start of the pandemic, according to data from the World Health Organization.
But conditions in Brazil are even worse. As of Sunday, there have been 16,391,930 confirmed cases with 459,045 deaths — the second highest number of deaths registered, the WHO reported.
Despite the horrific case and death rates, President Jair Bolsonaro controversially agreed to host the contest. The far-right leader has strongly opposed enforcing lockdowns that would shut down or restrict economic activity to prevent the spread of COVID.
CONMEBOL officials publicly thanked Bolsonaro for hosting the competition that it says inspires happiness and passion among millions of South Americans.
Thousands protest Bolsonaro's handling of the pandemic crisis
"This comes at a time when [Bolsonaro's] ratings are going down," NPR's Philip Reeves told All Things Considered.
On Saturday, tens of thousands of protesters across more than 200 towns and cities marched in anger, demanding Bolsonaro be impeached for his catastrophic handling of the health crisis. Opponents say the populist leader undermined social distancing efforts that could have stopped or stemmed the spread of the deadly virus, and they condemned him for his failure to secure sufficient vaccines.
Following the announcement on Monday morning, several public figures expressed outrage over the sudden decision to host the Copa America, with several state leaders flatly refusing to host any of the matches.
Bolsonaro has defended his response to the pandemic, and following the massive demonstrations the president and his supporters have been critical of the crowds which largely marched unmasked while ignoring social distancing guidelines.
"Bolsonaro supporters are jumping on that, saying if his opponents can jam the streets like that, how can they then criticize Bolsonaro for hosting Copa America," Reeves said.
The tournament attracts huge audiences in South America and globally, and it represents a significant financial windfall for CONMEBOL.
"The last Copa America, held in Brazil in 2019, brought in $118 million and was the second biggest annual source of revenue after the Copa Libertadores, the equivalent of Europe's Champions League," Reuters reported.