The Mané Garrincha stadium, in Brasilia, will host this Sunday the Brazil-Venezuela of the inaugural duel of a Copa América de Fútbol preceded by many shocks. The last, known this Saturday: twelve members of the Venezuelan delegation have tested positive for covid. They are asymptomatic. Brazil is, after Peru, the country with the worst death rate from the coronavirus. Although the health crisis persists, President Jair Bolsonaro rushed to pick up the glove of Conmebol and the Brazilian Confederation to assume the championship after the resignations of Colombia and Argentina, after being postponed in 2020 due to the pandemic. La Canarinha, led by Neymar and defending the title achieved in 2019, is the favorite. The championship between the best American teams begins marked by the lack of consensus on the relevance of the event and by a veiled threat of boycott of the players that did not come to fruition.
As with masks or vaccines, the Cup has been caught up in Brazilian political polarization.
The matches will be played without an audience and the plan is for the delegates to be confined in a kind of health bubbles in this country where the pandemic has kept schools closed for many more months than stadiums. Maracana, in Rio de Janeiro, will host the final on July 10. Cuiabá and Goania will be the other host cities.
The participants have taken extreme precautions. The Argentines are focused on their country and will travel to Brazil for each game. The championship is being held in the South American giant after the football authorities first gave up doing it in Colombia, due to popular protests that have placed power against the ropes, and later in Argentina, due to the coronavirus health crisis.
After days of rumors and the qualifiers concluded, the Brazilian team released a manifesto in which they expressed their discontent but without mentioning the pandemic and insisting that they do not want to politicize the matter. “We are against the Copa América, but we will never say no to the Brazilian team,” say the players, deeply upset that the venue transfer was decided without consulting them.
The Brazilian defenders of hosting the Cup insist that the multiple leagues of professional football have been held for months and that, therefore, it makes sense to celebrate the tournament; Critics rely on the nearly 480,000 deaths and 17 million accumulated cases, and on the risk of a third wave of infections predicted by epidemiologists as Brazil enters winter. Vaccination progresses in fits and starts, only 14% of the population is fully immunized.
Since Bolsonaro came to power, the national team’s jersey has become one of the Bolsonaristas’ hallmarks. For the far-right, football competition is a magnificent opportunity to bring joy to his faithful and to all those who place football above anything else. And, above all, the previous debate and now the parties help him to divert attention from the economic hardships, unemployment and the coronavirus epidemic, which still kills more than 2,000 Brazilians a day. Citizens are exhausted from restrictions, but it will still take months for them to be fully vaccinated.
The commission of inquiry that analyzes the government’s management of the pandemic has given new hope to those who want Bolsonaro out of the Presidency. The opposition is taking advantage of the daily revelations to wear down Bolsonaro in a climate that is clearly pre-electoral although there are still more than 16 months left until the elections. The testimonies of senior officials and experts heard by the Senate commission, and televised throughout the country, point to multiple negligence and errors in addition to a sustained policy of promoting useless cures by the Government led by Bolsonaro, one of the worst presidents has managed the pandemic.
Bolsonaro, who had already been suffering a certain wear and tear due to the economic crisis and high unemployment rates, now faces a serious adversary, former President Lula da Silva, who has returned with energy to the front line of Brazilian politics. His return has reshaped the political landscape as the streets heat up from demonstrations. The monopoly of popular mobilizations that Bolsonarism maintained since the pandemic began has ended. Leftist protests jumped from social media onto the asphalt a couple of weeks ago. Bolsonaro has summoned Brazilian bikers to march alongside him for the third time. This Saturday they will shoot in São Paulo.
The suspense about the championship continued until the end as so often in Brazil. The Supreme Court, faithful to its custom of entering to debate the most diverse issues, also ruled on the Cup. It rejected, without going into the merits of the matter, several appeals that requested the annulment of the championship due to risks to public health.
And in the midst of all the controversy over the Cup, an accusation of sexual harassment was known against the president of the Brazilian Football Confederation, Rogério Caboclo, which made him fall from office. The complaint filed by an employee of the CFB, and supported by a sound recording, has led to her provisional suspension from the position for a month. The women’s team, led by Marta, took advantage of a friendly against Russia this Friday to protest after a banner of “Assédio não” and with a statement in which they encourage men and women to denounce and emphasize: “Our fight for equality and justice goes beyond the football fields ”. Canarinha beat the Russians 3-0 in Cartagena (Spain).