Brazil’s Bolsonaro says he regrets Covid-19 deaths, but aims to host Copa America

“On what is up to the federal government, the Copa America will be held in Brazil. Since the beginning of the pandemic I have been saying, I regret the deaths, but we have to live,” said Bolsonaro at the Brazilian Sports Sponsorship Announcement Ceremony on Tuesday.

South America’s Football Confederation, CONMEBOL, had earlier in the week announced that it sought to move the tournament from Argentina to Brazil, and publicly thanked the Brazilian President for “opening the doors” to his country.

The tournament is scheduled to begin in less than two weeks.

CONMEBOL has not specified why the tournament was removed from Argentina, but the country is currently suffering from a rise in coronavirus cases, with a seven-day average of more than 30,000 new daily cases, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. The virus however is also rampant in Brazil, raising questions in some quarters about its suitability as a host.

“I was reached by (the Brazilian Football Confederation) with the information that Argentina could not host the Copa America, and asking whether Brazil could host it. The first answer I gave was that, in principle, yes,” Bolsonaro said. He also said cabinet had unanimously agreed with his decision, as other sporting championships are already happening in the country with certain public health precautions.

The decision has drawn fierce criticism from some local government officers, who have largely led the fight against the still-rampant virus. In the past month alone, 56,000 people have died of the virus in Brazil, according to Johns Hopkins University data; since the start of the pandemic, 462,791 people have died — the worst death toll in the world after that of the United States.

Earlier on Tuesday, during a hearing of the parliamentary commission currently investigating the government’s pandemic response, rapporteur Renan Calheiros said it was “unbelievable” that the government hopes to host the massive event. “It is unbelievable that the federal government wants to host the Copa América here in Brazil, at the very moment when the pandemic is at its worst, filling our cemeteries and our ICUs like never before. And the third wave is starting to arrive,” said Calheiros.

If CONMEBOL’s schedule holds, the Copa America should begin on June 13. The 2020 edition of the tournament was postponed by a year due to the coronavirus pandemic and was originally set to be held in both Argentina and Colombia between June 13 and July 10, the first time in tournament history it was to be jointly hosted.

Colombia was earlier stripped of its co-hosting responsibilities on May 20 following widespread protests across the country that were sparked by a controversial fiscal reform introduced by President Iván Duque.

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