South America’s soccer federation CONMEBOL on Monday said it would move next month’s Copa America to Brazil, thanking Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro for stepping in after original host Argentina pulled out over reports of surging COVID-19 cases.
The surprise decision, relocates the competition from one South American country to another, meaning the oldest international tournament in the world will kick off as planned on June 13, with the final on July 10.
It is a boost for Bolsonaro, a far-right former army captain who has railed against lockdowns and urged Brazilians to return to normal life.
In a separate tweet, CONMEBOL thanked Brazil’s president, who has long minimized the severity of the virus, for his help.
Brazil has routinely reported the continent’s highest case numbers and deaths, and currently ranks second highest in the world for both daily reported cases and deaths.
Meanwhile, Omar Aziz, one of the senators running a high-profile congressional probe into Bolsonaro’s handling of the pandemic, said he did not see any major problems with Brazil hosting the tournament, as long as there were no crowds and the correct safety measures were followed.
But many others in Brazil, where soccer is a national obsession, were outraged by the decision.
The CONMEBOL announcement comes less than 24 hours after Argentina said its outbreak meant it could not longer host.
This year’s Copa America was to be the first featuring joint hosts, but Colombia was removed as co-host on May 20 after a wave of protests demanding social and economic change spread across the country.