At last, Copa America 2021 has a set host country. After both Argentina and Colombia opted out of hosting the tournament, Brazil stepped up to host the tournament in a questionable move in the eyes of many.
This year’s edition of South America’s premier footballing competition saw the naming of 2 co-host nations for the first time in its 105-year history. In 2019, CONMEBOL (the South American equivalent to Europe’s UEFA) handed hosting privileges to Argentina and Colombia.
Co-hosts aren’t new to international tournaments, but the decision came with its fair share of skepticism due to the nations’ geography. Argentina is at the southern end of the continent, while Colombia lies on the northern coast. In past examples of co-hosting, the hosts always were close geographically. For example, Japan and Korea hosted the 2002 World Cup, whereas Poland and Ukraine similarly hosted the 2012 Euros.
Until very recently, the odd format for the co-hosts looked set to happen. However, just last month, the chances of the tournament even happening looked in doubt. On May 20th, a period of tense political unrest in Colombia forced CONMEBOL to drop the nation as a host.
Just 2 days later, Argentina fell under a strict 9-day lockdown due to a surge in COVID-19 cases. Then, on May 30th, Argentina lost its hosting rights, this time due to the ongoing COVID crisis.
Even as the alternate host nation, Brazil has its own variety of issues within its borders. Second, to only the United States, Brazil has a record 476,792 COVID-19 related deaths and counting. Due to the crisis, it is unknown whether fans will be permitted inside stadiums for the tournament.
Unlike the United States, Brazil’s death rate still lies at an alarming number. On average, 2,455 people die per day in the country. The US currently averages 347 deaths per day.
To add insult to injury, CONMEBOL even denied a US bid to host after Colombia and Argentina dropped out of.
Rio De Janeiro, where some of the games are scheduled, even has its own doubts about hosting. Mayor Eduardo Paes said that he has no idea how the tournament will go, given the current climate of issues.
“I don’t even know when the Copa America games are to be played in Rio and if the situation worsens before then and the decree changes, then it changes and that’s that. We didn’t ask for the Copa America and if you ask my opinion I think a championship like this is a bit inopportune.”Eduardo Paes
Even Brazil’s most populous state of Sao Paulo already rejected any bids to provide its stadiums in hosting the tournament.
Despite Brazil’s 3rd wave of COVID-19 ravaging the country, president Jair Bolsonaro seemed intent on hosting the games. A member of his staff put out the following statement seemingly supporting Brazil’s hosting of the tournament.
Brazil hosts matches of the Copa Libertadores, Copa Sudamericana, plus state and national championships. It couldn’t turn its back to a traditional tournament like this.Luiz Ramos (Bolsonaro’s Chief of Staff)
CONMEBOL Issues and Player Criticism
In wake of CONMEBOL’s decision to give hosting rights to Brazil, players and all involved in the tournament expressed distaste at the organization.
Several sponsors of the tournament reportedly pulled out after the news. Smirnoff, Mastercard, and Tanqueray are just a few that expressed concerns over the tournament, causing them to pull out of sponsoring.
Similar to the sponsorship companies, many players themselves didn’t endorse the move. Brazil’s own national team consisting of stars like Neymar and Roberto Firmino put out a collective statement via social media. Much of the post criticized CONMEBOL and the move to Brazil.
“We have a mission to fulfill with the historic five-time world champion yellow-green jersey. We are against the organization of the Copa América, but we will never say no to the Brazilian national team.”Brazil National Team
Simply proving player concern, Venezuela had 8 players test positive before their match against Brazil in the tournament opener. Bolivia also had 3 players bring back positive tests. As a result, both countries were allowed to bring up emergency replacements, but the inclusion of these replacements means that neither will be at full strength for matches.
CONMEBOL’s decision to give hosting to one country further grew in speculation after the European Championship took a different route. This year’s Euros come in an all-new format in an effort to curb the transmission of COVID-19.
Rather than naming a single host country, UEFA decided to have games in each country. Already, games have been played in Denmark, England, Italy, and Belgium. So far, the process is without any major problems.
Kickoff of the tournament begins June 13th with Brazil facing Venezuela. In a year plagued by a global pandemic, one can only hope that CONMEBOL’s decision to give Brazil hosting rights won’t lead to total disaster in the tournament.
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