A Brazilian Supreme Court judge has given President Jair Bolsonaro five days to submit information regarding the government’s last-minute decision to host the Copa America football tournament despite the nation’s ongoing struggles with COVID-19.
The demand by Ricardo Lewandowski came in response to a suit filed by the opposition Workers’ Party, which objected to hosting the tournament given the current public health situation in Brazil and plunged the fate of Latin America’s biggest sporting event into uncertainty once more.
Bolsonaro said earlier on Tuesday his government was on board with hosting the Copa America this month after planned host Argentina pulled out due to a dramatic worsening of the coronavirus pandemic there.
It comes as Brazil struggles to cope with the ravages of a virus that has killed more than 463,000 people, second only to the United States. Analysts apprehend another wave of the disease to hit the country by late June. Many hospitals have more than 80 percent of their intensive care units occupied by infected people.
Speaking to supporters in Brasilia, Bolsonaro said he consulted Health Minister Marcelo Queiroga and they had agreed the four-week-long tournament played by 10 South American nations could take place.
“As far as it is up to me, and all the ministers, including the health minister, it is all decided,” Bolsonaro said.
Brazil was chosen as the host nation on Monday in a surprise decision made by the South American Football Confederation, CONMEBOL, after Argentina withdrew as host.
The opening match is scheduled for June 13 and the final is slated for July 10, but the host cities have not been named and organisers are scrambling to put together a plan for the 10 teams that will fly to Brazil to take part.
The union of Colombian footballers expressed their misgivings about the sudden shift of the host nation in a statement on Tuesday.
“The members of the Colombian national team have expressed their concern about the untimely change of venue, considering the complicated health situation in Brazil,” a statement from Acolfutpro said.
“Conmebol’s decision generates uncertainty among footballers not just because of the risk to their health but also because of the tranquility and guarantees they require for a normal competition to take place.”
No fans are expected to attend the games but Bolsonaro said the same health protocols will be followed that have been in place for other football tournaments.
Less than 11 percent of the Brazilian population has been fully vaccinated, according to Our World in Data, an online research site.
Brazil has hosted teams this year from across the continent in the Copa Libertadores and Copa Sudamericana, South America’s equivalent of the Champions League and Europa League, respectively.
This year’s edition of the Copa America, the oldest international tournament in the world, was held over from 2020 because of the pandemic.
It was supposed to be the first to be held jointly by two nations, but Colombia and then Argentina pulled out.
Lawmakers and political parties say they will take Bolsonaro’s decision to host the tournament to court. Some of them are also stepping up the pressure in a Senate inquiry on the president’s handling of the pandemic.