Dark clouds loom over Copa America

Stand-in host Brazil wary as Supreme Court considers blocking it, players voice concerns

SAO PAULO • New doubts gathered on Tuesday over the Copa America five days from kick-off, as Brazil's Supreme Court agreed to consider blocking the tournament and the Brazilian team's players said they were against holding it.

Organisers are battling the odds to pull off the South American football championship this year despite the Covid-19 pandemic.

It has forced them into a last-minute search for an emergency host country that ended with last week's controversial choice of Brazil, which has been hit hard by the coronavirus with more than 475,000 deaths, second only to the United States.

Experts warn the country is facing a new surge of infections that a major international sports tournament could exacerbate.

Brazil's Supreme Court said it would rule today on requests - brought by national metalworkers' union CNTM and by opposition Congressman Julio Delgado and his Brazilian Socialist Party (PSB) - to block the 10-nation tournament, which is scheduled to open on Sunday and run till July 10.

Chief Justice Luiz Fux said given the "exceptional nature of the case", he had decided to have the full 11-member court take up the matter in an extraordinary virtual session.

Hours later, Brazil's national team players said they were against holding the tournament, but put to rest rumours that they were planning a boycott.

"We are against organising the Copa America, but we will never say no to the Brazilian national team," the players said in a joint statement that was released shortly after they beat Paraguay 2-0 in a World Cup qualifier to maintain their perfect start with 18 points from six matches.

"We have a mission to accomplish in the historic green and yellow jersey of the five-time world champions."

The team, as well as coach Tite, were reportedly caught off guard by news the tournament would be held in Brazil. They are due to kick off the tournament against Venezuela on Sunday.

"We are dissatisfied with (South American football confederation) Conmebol's handling of the Copa America," they said. "Recent events lead us to believe the process of organising the tournament will be inadequate."

Already delayed by 12 months, the Copa was originally due to be hosted by Colombia and Argentina - the two teams drew 2-2 in their World Cup qualifier on Tuesday.

However, the former fell through because of violent anti-government protests, and the latter because of a surge of Covid-19 cases.

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    Cities in Brazil - Brasilia, Goiania, Cuiaba and Rio de Janeiro - slated to host Copa America matches.

With the clock ticking, Brazil was picked as replacement host by Conmebol.

Officials have said matches will be held without fans, with mandatory Covid-19 testing for teams every 48 hours, restrictions on their movement and chartered flights to carry them to matches in the four host cities of Brasilia, Goiania, Cuiaba and Rio de Janeiro.

Brazil's health ministry backed down on Monday from plans to require all players, coaches and staff to be vaccinated.

Health Minister Marcelo Queiroga said it was too late to ensure immunity and that post-vaccine side effects "could compromise players' performance".

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 10, 2021, with the headline 'Dark clouds loom over Copa America'. Subscribe