Can COVID-stricken Brazil host Copa America?

It is fitting that the underused Estadio Mane Garrincha football stadium in Brasilia sits almost within sight of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s office.

In a little more than a week, the cavernous arena is scheduled to host the opening match of arguably the most contentious and politicised Copa America in the history of the world’s oldest international football tournament.

It is fitting that the underused Estadio Mane Garrincha football stadium in Brasilia sits almost within sight of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s office.

In a little more than a week, the cavernous arena is scheduled to host the opening match of arguably the most contentious and politicised Copa America in the history of the world’s oldest international football tournament.The decision to host the tournament prompted an eruption of criticism across South America. Footballers, politicians, health experts, lawyers and fans all expressed disbelief at the idea of hosting the tournament in a country that has consistently struggled to control the virus.

On Friday, following the team’s win over Ecuador, captain Casemiro suggested the players did not want to take part in the tournament given the COVID situation in the country.

“We can’t talk about the issue [but] everyone knows what our position is regarding the Copa America,” Casemiro said. “It’s impossible to be clearer. We want to express our opinion after the game against Paraguay.”

‘Grave site’

High-profile stars such as Argentina’s Sergio Aguero and Luis Suarez of Uruguay have voiced concern too, while the Chilean national team is also considering a boycott with coach Martin Lasarte saying playing in Brazil is a “gigantic risk”.

Soon after Dominguez’s tweet, memes of mocked-up mascots and logos featuring coffins and the virus molecule circulated online.

Using the Portuguese words for “variant” and “grave site” Brazilians rebranded the tournament Cepa America and Cova America.

“Every day, more than 2,000 people are dying in Brazil because of this virus, yet it has been happening for so long now it is being considered completely natural,” Dr Jamal Suleiman, an infectious disease specialist at Hospital Emilio Ribas in Sao Paulo, told Al Jazeera.

“It’s never-ending. It’s like 10 large passenger planes crashing every single day for months. No other country in the world is like this.”

South America is home to more than half of the 15 countries with the highest seven-day incidence of COVID cases worldwide.

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