The Supreme Court cleared the way for a year-delayed and shifted football tournament to go ahead in three days.
Brazil’s Supreme Court has ruled that the country can host the Copa America despite the coronavirus pandemic, clearing the way for the troubled football tournament to go ahead in three days.
In an extraordinary virtual session held on Thursday, a majority of 11 high court judges ruled against the plaintiffs, who argued the South American championships pose an unacceptable health risk.
However, various judges ordered the government to take additional security measures.
Justice Carmen Lucia wrote in her ruling, “It is up to (state governors and mayors) to set appropriate health protocols and ensure they are respected to avoid the ‘copavirus’.”
The three cases before the court were the latest – and perhaps last – edge of the seat moments for the organizers, who are determined to pull off this edition of the world’s oldest ongoing international football tournament against the odds.
Already delayed by a year due to the pandemic, the Copa América almost settled when the original co-hosts Colombia and Argentina fell at the last minute – the former due to violent anti-government protests, the latter due to a surge of COVID-19 cases.
With this Sunday’s opening match clocked in, Brazil stepped down as emergency hosts for the 10-nation tournament last week.
But the decision is highly controversial: Brazil is also battling COVID-19, which has killed nearly 480,000 people in the country, second only to the United States.
Far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, who has regularly disregarded expert advice on handling the pandemic, blessed the tournament to be hosted.
He welcomed the court’s decision and predicted that Brazil would “massacre” Venezuela in the opening match.
But epidemiologists warn that Brazil is currently facing a new surge of cases, and say hosting an important international sporting event could exacerbate the health crisis.
“It is impossible to describe the madness of trying to organize such an event here,” infectious disease expert Jose David Urbez told AFP news agency.
The Supreme Court petitions were filed by the National Metalworkers Union, the Brazilian Socialist Party (PSB) and the Workers’ Party (PT) of former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, a potential rival to Bolsonaro in the presidential elections next year.
He argued that the tournament was exacerbating the health crisis and would “violate the fundamental rights to life and health”.
Bolsonaro and the South American Football Confederation, CONMEBOL, insist the tournament will remain safe.
Brazilian authorities are required to hold matches without fans, including the July 10 final at the Maracan stadium in Rio de Janeiro.
Teams will have to mandatorily undergo COVID-19 testing every 48 hours. Their movement will be restricted, and they will travel to matches in four host cities on chartered flights.
However, the health ministry on Monday backtracked from a plan to require all players, coaches and staff to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
Health Minister Marcelo Quiroga said it was too late to ensure immunity, and post-vaccination side effects “could compromise players’ performance”.
Organizers face a lot of backlash. Two top sponsors, Mastercard and beer giant Ambev, said on Wednesday they were pulling their brands from the tournament. A third, alcoholic beverage company Diageo, followed suit on Thursday.
And the incident has been criticized by several players and coaches, including Luis Suarez of Uruguay, Sergio “Kun” Aguero of Argentina and the entire Brazil national team.
Neymar and the team – as well as Brazil’s coach, Tite – were reportedly wary of the news their country would host, and there was talk that they would boycott.
He stopped short of that in the end, but was blunt in his criticism of CONMEBOL.
“We are against organizing the Copa America,” he said in a joint statement on Tuesday.