BRAZILIAN President Jair Bolsonaro has come under fire as he pushes for plans to host the biggest football tournament in South America this month.
Renan Calheiros, a Brazilian senator who is leading the country's Covid inquiry, slammed plans to host the Copa America while 2,000 Brazilians die every day from Covid as “unbelievable”.
Calheiros said the tournament would be a “championship of death” and urged stars such as Neymar to boycott it as countrymen "continue to die”.
Juca Kfouri, one of Brazil’s top sports writers, branded the competition the “Cova América” or “Grave of the Americas”.
“There is no justification for bringing nine South American teams, and potentially new variants, to one of the epicentres of the pandemic, wasting resources and attention that should be directed towards our thousands of infected patients,” he wrote.
Others have called it the “Cepa America”, or “the Strain of the Americas” and demanded the government reverse its decision.
'CHAMPIONSHIP OF DEATH'
Bolsonaro has come under heavy criticism for his handling of the Covid outbreak, which has seen more than 450,000 people die and new deadly variants emerge.
The president initially downplayed the severity of the virus and previously called it “a little flu”.
He also attacked social distancing measures and touted unproven health treatments like hydroxychloroquine.
On Monday, Bolsonaro caused further outrage when he confirmed Brazil would be the host of South America’s most-watched footballing championship, arguing it was time the country got back to normal.
“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.
“Since the beginning of the pandemic I have been saying, I regret the deaths, but we have to live.
“As far as it’s up to me, and all the ministers – health included – it’s a done deal.”
Other sporting championships are already happening in the country with certain public health precautions.
Argentina and Colombia both pulled out of hosting the tournament following unrest and a worsening Covid crisis.
Colombia was earlier stripped of its co-hosting responsibilities following widespread protests while Argentina relinquished its responsibilities after reporting a seven-day average of more than 30,000 new daily cases.
“I want to say a special thanks to President Jair Bolsonaro and his cabinet for hosting the tournament,” tweeted Alejandro Domínguez, president of South America's football body CONMEBOL.
However, the championship may be in peril after a Brazilian Supreme Court judge ordered Bolsonaro to submit information regarding his government’s last-minute decision to host the cup.
Bolsonaro is already under investigation for his handling of his country’s coronavirus pandemic.
The inquiry, which Bolsonaro’s detractors call the “CPI da Morte” or “death committee”, will pursue multiple lines of inquiry.
They include what caused January’s devastating healthcare collapse in the Amazon when hospitals ran out of oxygen and patients died of asphyxiation.
If the cup goes ahead, it will take place between June 11 and July 10.
Copa America is one of the most-watched football tournaments in the world. Some 12 to 16 South American national football teams compete for the title every four years.
Last year’s tournament was suspended due to Covid-19.
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