SAO PAULO: Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro said on Tuesday his government is on board with hosting the Copa America soccer tournament later this month, in a last-minute switch after planned host Argentina pulled out due to the coronavirus.
Speaking to supporters in Brasilia, Bolsonaro said he consulted with Health Minister Marcelo Queiroga and they had agreed the four-week long tournament played by 10 South American nations could take place.
"As far as it is up to me, and all the ministers, including the health minister, it is all decided," Bolsonaro said.
Brazil was chosen as host nation on Monday in a surprise decision made jointly with the South American Football Confederation (CONMEBOL) after Argentina withdrew as host.
The tournament is set to feature some of the greatest names in world football, with Argentines Lionel Messi and Sergio Aguero, Neymar from Brazil, and Uruguayans Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani among those expected to participate. CONMEBOL has promised all players will be vaccinated before the tournament begins.
The opening match is scheduled for June 13 and the final is slated for Jul 10, but the host cities have not been named and organizers are scrambling to put together a plan for the 10 teams that will fly to Brazil to take part.
No fans are expected to attend the games and Bolsonaro said the same health protocols will be followed that have been in place for other soccer tournaments.
Brazil has hosted teams this year from across the continent in the Copa Libertadores and Copa Sudamericana, South America's equivalent of the Champions League and Europa League, respectively.
"Are you watching the Libertadores? Are you watching the Copa Sudamericana? There will be a World Cup qualifier here on Friday. And no one says anything, there's no problem," Bolsonaro said.
"The protocols are the same."
This year’s edition of the Copa America, the oldest international tournament in the world, was held over from 2020 because of the pandemic.
It was supposed to be the first to be held jointly by two nations but Colombia and then Argentina pulled out.
It comes as Brazil struggles to cope with the ravages of a virus that has killed 462,791 people, according to government figures.