SPORT / SOCCER
COVID-19 threatens Copa America one month out
Uncertainty remains
Published: May 13, 2021 06:18 PM
The draw ceremony for Copa America 2020 at Centro de Convenciones de Cartagena de Indias on December 3, 2019 in Cartagena, Colombia Photo: VCG

The draw ceremony for Copa America 2020 at Centro de Convenciones de Cartagena de Indias on December 3, 2019 in Cartagena, Colombia Photo: VCG

With the Copa America due to begin in one month, uncertainty remains over whether it will actually go ahead as hosts Argentina and Colombia ­struggle with the ­coronavirus pandemic.

A final decision was expected to be taken on Thursday when South American football's governing body CONMEBOL's Council met, with the presidents of all 10 member federations present.

A CONMEBOL source said Wednesday the body was expected to have the tournament to go ahead as planned.

There's also no fear that European clubs - who threatened to prevent players from taking part in World Cup qualifiers in March due to the possibility of quarantine restrictions on their return - would object, meaning stars like Barcelona's Lionel Messi and Neymar of Paris Saint-Germain should feature.

Yet Argentina, which is due to host the opening match on June 13, is mired in its worst moment since the pandemic began. 

More than 3 million people have contracted the virus, 68,000 of whom died from COVID-19.

Colombia has also been hard-hit by coronavirus, with likewise 3 ­million cases and 78,000 deaths.

"It's probable that the peak of infections won't fall" by the time the tournament begins, said Diego ­Rosselli, professor of epidemiology at the Javeriana University in Bogota.

However, there is precedent here as Colombia managed to host the Copa in 2001 despite the country being gripped by a decades-long conflict with guerrillas.

Back then, Argentina and invitees Canada pulled out with Costa Rica and Honduras drafted in as late replacements. Brazil and Uruguay sent second string squads, but the tournament passed off without incident and Colombia won for the first time.

Support from president

But while much of the world has been in lockdown, professional football has proved resistant to most containment measures.

"We're casually playing football with a mountain of infections," said former Argentina coach Angel Cappa.

The tournament has the backing of Colombia's President Ivan Duque.

"It would be absurd not to play the Copa America if they're playing the European Championship, especially given the epidemiological figures in certain [European] countries are the same, or even, in some places, worse" than in South America, he said.

Argentina's President Alberto Fernandez is not so confident, saying recently, "I don't want to thwart the Copa but we have to be very sensible."

CONMEBOL's hopes of having fans in stadiums also looks set to be frustrated.

With intensive care units on the brink of collapse, Fernan Quiros, the health minister for Buenos Aires, warned the city "cannot organize spectacles with large crowds."

CONMEBOL doesn't seem to be listening and launched the tournament's official song.

"It's an unequivocal sign that work is continuing," a source said.

As things stand, the opening match between Argentina and Chile in the Monumental Stadium in Buenos Aires is going ahead, as is the final in the Colombian city of Barranquilla on July 10.

Chinese vaccines



Continental cup ­competitions the Copa Libertadores and ­Sudamericana have been disrupted by the pandemic, but CONMEBOL started vaccinating footballers last week thanks to 50,000 vaccine doses donated by Chinese state pharmaceutical company Sinovac.

Even players' family members will be immunized while vaccination centers have been set up in London, Rome and Madrid for European-based players.

Referees, coaches and support staff at professional clubs have also received jabs.

CONMEBOL seems determined to do everything in its power to ensure authorities have no reasons to force their hand.

In Brazil, the current champions, both team coach Tite and the country's football federation have remained tight-lipped.

Brazil's vaccine rollout has been condemned for being slow, parts of the country have seen their health systems collapse and 425,000 people have died of COVID-19.

For many, football should be the last thing on their minds.

"Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, Brazilian football's leaders have been thinking only about themselves, the game and money," said former Brazil international Walter Casagrande.
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