Brazil’s Supreme Court has allowed the Copa America football tournament to kick off even though the country is in a precarious position as far as the Covid-19 pandemic is concerned. Brazil are scheduled to face Venezuela in the tournament opener on Sunday at the Mané Garrincha stadium Brasilia. The final will take place on July 10 at the Maracana in Rio de Janeiro.
Brazil was given the hosting rights just last month after the CONMEBOL, the body governing football in South America, removed Argentina and Colombia as co hosts of the continental championships, citing the pandemic situation in the former and political unrest in the latter. The irony, though, is that CONMEBOL then went on to hand the hosting rights to one of the countries worst hit by the pandemic.
The unanimous vote by the 11 justices of the Supreme Court provided relief for organisers as well as Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro, who has been facing the heat for the trivial way in which he has handled the coronavirus pandemic in the country. In fact, critics believe hosting the tournament will further strengthen the notion that things are normal, which is far from what the reality is. Reportedly, experts are bracing for an imminent new wave of infections in July thanks to high-spreading new variants in the country.
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The court, on Thursday, rejected two suits against holding the tournament, considering that authorization of the games is a decision made by officials in the state where they will be played. Needless to say, all the four governors of the regions where Copa America matches would be played are Bolsonaro allies.
The tournament will be played in the states of Rio de Janeiro, Goias, Mato Grosso and the country’s Federal District. Several other states rejected hosting matches of the tournament.
Bolsonaro has staunchly supported Brazil hosting Copa America since CONMEBOL made a last-minute plea. He has railed against shutdown measures aimed at preventing the virus’ spread and claimed their economic impact kills more than the virus.
Justice Carmen Lúcia argued in her vote that only state authorities can permit or prohibit Copa America from taking place locally, and her colleagues agreed.
“The Supreme Court can act in accordance with the guidance of the constitution and current legislation. Judges cannot act as they wish nor as they desire,” said Lúcia, who has previously criticized the Bolsonaro administration’s decision to host the event. She added that neither Bolsonaro nor any sports body can overrule the decisions of state authorities.
The court’s ruling came after hearing the two cases brought by the national metalworkers' union (CNTM) and by opposition Congressman Julio Delgado and his Brazilian Socialist Party (PSB). CNTM argued that hosting Copa America "risks causing an increase in COVID-19 infections and deaths”, while Delgado and PSB said hosting would violate "fundamental rights to life and health," also citing coronavirus concerns.
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Other courts also received requests to block the tournament, which, the organisers say, is not a cause of concern as there will be no instadia attendance, and hence no crowd and chances of spread of the virus.
The left-wing Workers' Party (PT) of former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who is likely to be Bolsonaro's main rival in the next election, also filed a similar request.
“Intense circulation of visitors in national territory will obviously spread COVID-19 in several states, as well as potentially allow entry of new variants,” the party said in its request.
In addition to objections from the masses, several Brazilian players were also critical of the decision to host the tournament at home.
In a statement posted online early on Wednesday, the Brazil players said they were "not satisfied" with the way the South American Football Confederation (CONMEBOL) handled the decision.
“For different reasons, be they humanitarian or professional, we are not satisfied with the way the Copa America has been handled by CONMEBOL,” the players had said.
Brazil is still suffering one of the world’s highest daily COVID-19 infection rates, although the number of deaths has been declining for about two months from its record high.
(With inputs from AP)
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