The Copa America Opens In Brazil As Bolsonaro Ignores His Country’s Ongoing Covid-19 Crisis

After uncertainty over what country would host it, most residents saying they don’t want it, sponsorships abandoning it, and even players balking at the idea of playing at it, the Copa America is officially underway.

In the empty Mane Garrincha stadium in Brasilia, Brazil opened the international Copa America with a match against Venezuela. Few thought the day would come given the severe and ongoing pandemic conditions across Latin America.

Brazil is hosting the Copa America despite what the majority of Brazilians want in the face of an ongoing pandemic.

Many wondered if the 2020 Copa America would ever end up taking place. But now, more than a year after original co-hosts Colombia and Argentina were forced to withdraw over ongoing social unrest in the former, and surging COVID-19 infections in the latter, the tournament is underway in Brazil.

No spectators will be allowed to attend any Copa America matches because of restrictions in place for the pandemic. Brazil continues to be ravaged by COVID-19 and most residents were against hosting the international tournament, but President Jaír Bolsonaro was set on showing Brazil could take charge. In fact, recent polling has shown that more than 60 percent of Brazilians are against hosting the tournament.

Matches will be played across the country with the final set for July 10 at the massive Maracanã stadium in Rio de Janeiro, one of the Covid-19 epicenters in Brazil, where more than 480,000 people have died from the coronavirus.

Players had nearly boycotted the tournament.

The tournament is taking place in a country largely living against a backdrop of controversy and fear. Each day more than 2,000 people are still being killed by the pandemic, leading many in this soccer-obsessed country to question the decision to host an international sporting event.

Many of the country’s top players were also questioning the decision with some threatening a boycott if the Copa America was moved to Brazil. But last week players ended speculation about a potential boycott, saying they are “unsatisfied” with the decision to move the tournament to their country, but it wouldn’t stop them from representing their national team.

Though the decision is already having major consequences. Thirteen members of the Venezuelan national team have tested positive for the virus, including coaching staff, according to the South American football confederation, CONMEBOL. Bolivia has also confirmed that three of its players and a coach had also tested positive and were in isolation ahead of their team’s debut on Monday against Paraguay.

Brazil’s health minister Marcelo Queiroga has said players who have the virus will return only after they test negative. He added that there’s no reason for the matches not to take place.

Many see the tournament as a distraction from Bolsonaro’s growing political problems.

Bolsonaro has long been a polarizing political figure but his fortunes may finally be turning as voters disapprove of his handling of the pandemic. The president’s approval rating has dropped to 24 percent, according to the polling firm Datafolha, which is the lowest it’s been since he took office. The right-wing nationalist is trailing former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in early polls ahead of next year’s presidential election.

Many believe that Bolsonaro saw an opportunity to shift attention away from the damaging daily news reports by bringing to the people something they follow more closely than politics: soccer. Meanwhile, the government is defending its decision by pointing out the various restrictions being places on the tournament: delegations are restricted to 65 members, players and coaches will be quarantined and frequently tested, and the stadiums will be empty.

But given Bolsonaro’s track record on the pandemic, many are worried for Brazil’s future.

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