Uruguay players 'let guard down'

MADRID • Uruguay forward Luis Suarez has apologised for the team lowering their guard during the international break after 16 members of their squad and staff, including the Atletico Madrid striker, tested positive for Covid-19.

Fierce criticism has been directed towards the national team after pictures emerged of the players enjoying a barbecue without observing social distancing as well as sharing the traditional South American mate tea, which is drunk through a communal straw.

"Many people are criticising us, we committed an error and we apologise for that," Suarez told Uruguay TV programme Punto Penal on Sunday.

"The infection did not happen because of the barbecue, that's very clear. We had the bad luck of one of us getting infected in Colombia."

Suarez was among 10 players to test positive while away with Uruguay, along with his Atletico teammate Lucas Torreira as well as Cagliari defender and Uruguay captain Diego Godin, while six staff members were also infected.

Suarez, who missed Uruguay's 2-0 World Cup qualifying defeat by Brazil as well as Atletico's 1-0 La Liga win over his former side Barcelona on Saturday, said he was asymptomatic and was self-isolating in an apartment in Madrid.

He also said he and other teammates had tested negative on several occasions during the international break, including after Palmeiras defender Matias Vina became the first player to test positive.

"We all felt uncertain as we had been with Matias in the dressing room and the showers, but then we tested negative and thought we were safe," Suarez added. "Then unfortunately, there were more cases and the whole thing snowballed. We made a mistake. We let our guard down when we tested negative and then several positive tests started appearing. We did something wrong.

"This should serve as a warning to all young people out there and everybody else that nobody is immune and even though we are tested very often, we need to take care of ourselves."

The country's health ministry has since fined the Uruguayan Football Federation US$15,000 (S$20,110) for "failing to respect health protocols", while Health Minister Daniel Salinas hit out at the "lack of concern" shown by the team.

Atletico president Enrique Cerezo also blasted the lax measures, saying the club would file a complaint with Fifa and telling Spanish radio station Cadena Sur: "They weren't tested. In Spain, the players don't shower (together). We monitor them before and after a match and training."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 24, 2020, with the headline 'Uruguay players 'let guard down''. Print Edition | Subscribe