The long-delayed football tournament comes amid an ever-growing pandemic in Brazil, which has recorded more than 486,000 deaths.
After uncertainty about the country that would host it, a hearing of the Brazilian Supreme Court on its possible postponement and the coronavirus infections reported by three teams, the long delayed Copa America football tournament has opened in the capital of Brazil.
Host nation Brazil opened the international match against Venezuela at 6:00 p.m. local time (9:00 p.m. GMT) on Sunday at an empty Mane Garrincha stadium in Brasilia.
The opening game comes just days after local health officials reported that Venezuelan players and staff had tested positive for COVID-19, which ravaged Brazil and claimed more than 486,000 deaths.
A total of 13 members of the Venezuelan national team delegation tested positive for the virus, including coaching staff, South American football confederation CONMEBOL said.
Bolivia later said three of their players and a coach also tested positive and were in isolation ahead of their team’s debut against Paraguay on Monday. On Sunday, two members of the Colombian delegation also tested positive.
The Copa America has been plagued by uncertainty as the tournament has been delayed for 12 months due to the pandemic and original co-hosts Colombia and Argentina have been forced to withdraw. ongoing social unrest in the first, and surge in COVID-19 infections in this last.
CONMEBOL ad Brazil would host the tournament at the end of last month, raising new questions and concerns about whether the event would exacerbate the current coronavirus crisis in the South American nation.
Al Jazeera’s Monica Yanakiew, in a report from Rio de Janeiro on Sunday, said Brazil is expected to hit the grim milestone of half a million coronavirus deaths during or immediately after the tournament.
The country has reported more than 486,000 deaths and more than 17.3 million cases to date, according to a Johns Hopkins University tally – and health experts have warned another wave of the pandemic is possible.
Copa America also comes in connection with an ongoing parliamentary inquiry into how the far-right government of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has handled the pandemic, Yanakiew said.
“Every day during the congressional inquiry, people discuss why the government has downplayed the importance of the virus. The president himself doesn’t wear masks, holds rallies, has crowds, says masks are not needed, says social distancing is not necessary. This is the backdrop to this sporting event, “she said.
Bolsonaro, a coronavirus skeptic who was fined $ 108 by the state of Sao Paulo on Saturday for failing to wear a mask during a motorcycle rally with many of his supporters, had insisted the Copa America continues.
“There are vested interests in making the Copa America happen,” sociologist Rodrigo Moreira of the Federal University of Fluminense told AFP news agency.
“The government wants to show that the country is ready to welcome it, when in reality it is not. And [organisers] want to secure their profits ”from television rights and sponsorship deals, said Moreira.
Epidemiologists, staff from the parliamentary coronavirus inquiry, as well as some players and coaches, had raised concerns that Brazil is hosting the tournament.
The country’s Supreme Court on Friday ruled The Copa America could take place, however, but judges have ordered authorities to take additional security measures.
“It falls to [state governors and mayors] to define the appropriate health protocols and to ensure their respect in order to avoid a “Copavirus”, with new infections and the emergence of new variants “, wrote the judge Carmen Lucia in her decision.