Brazil’s Supreme Court ruled on Thursday that the country will be allowed to host the Copa America despite the coronavirus pandemic, paving the way for the troubled football tournament to continue in three days.
While the vote in an extraordinary virtual hearing is still underway, a majority of the 11 Supreme Court justices have ruled against plaintiffs alleging the South American Championships posed an unacceptable health risk.
However, several judges have ordered the government to take additional security measures.
“It is up to (state governors and mayors) to establish proper health protocols and ensure they are respected to prevent a ‘Copavirus’, with new infections and the emergence of new variants,” wrote Judge Carmen Lucia in her statement.
The three cases in court were the last – and perhaps the last – edge of the seat for the organisers, who seem determined to bring this edition of the world’s oldest running international football tournament to a successful conclusion despite the obstacles.
The Copa America had already been delayed by 12 months due to the pandemic, but all but unraveled when the original co-hosts Colombia and Argentina canceled at the last minute – the former due to violent anti-government protests, the latter due to a wave of Covid-19 .
As the clock ticked down to this Sunday’s opening game, Brazil acted as emergency host for the 10-nation tournament last week.
But the decision is hugely controversial: Brazil is also reeling from Covid-19, which has claimed nearly 480,000 lives in the country, second only to the United States.
Fear of Covid is on the rise
Far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, who has regularly defied expert advice on containing the pandemic, gave his blessing to host the tournament.
But epidemiologists warn Brazil is currently facing a new wave of cases, saying hosting a major international sporting event could add fuel to the fire.
“It is impossible to describe the insanity of holding an event of this magnitude here now,” infectious disease specialist Jose David Urbaez told AFP.
The Supreme Court petitions have been filed by the national metal workers’ union, the Brazilian Socialist Party (PSB) and the Workers’ Party (PT) of former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, Bolsonaro’s likely opponent in next year’s presidential election.
They argued that the tournament risks exacerbating the health crisis and “violating fundamental rights to life and health”.
Bolsonaro and the South American Football Confederation CONMEBOL insist the tournament will be safe.
Brazilian officials are demanding that matches be held without fans, including the July 10 final at Rio de Janeiro’s Maracana Stadium.
Teams undergo mandatory Covid-19 testing every 48 hours. Their movements will be restricted and they will travel on charter flights to competitions in the four host cities.
However, the health ministry on Monday withdrew from plans to require all players, coaches and staff to be vaccinated against Covid-19.
Health Minister Marcelo Queiroga said it was too late to guarantee immunity, and side effects after the vaccine “could jeopardize players’ performance”.
Players, sponsors unhappy
The organizers encountered a lot of resistance.
Two top sponsors, Mastercard and beer giant Ambev, said on Wednesday they would withdraw their brands from the tournament.
A third, alcoholic beverage company Diageo, followed on Thursday.
And many players and coaches have criticized the event, including Luis Suarez of Uruguay, Sergio ‘Kun’ Aguero of Argentina and the entire Brazilian national team.
Neymar and team – as well as Brazil’s coach, Tite – were reportedly taken aback by news their country would receive, and there was talk of a boycott.
They eventually stopped doing that, but were blunt in their criticism of CONMEBOL.
“We are against organizing the Copa America,” they said in a joint statement on Tuesday.