The Conmebol America Cup 2021 was scheduled to be organized by Colombia and Argentina.
But both countries gave up the possibility of hosting for different reasons. For Colombia, the social situation killed the possibility of hosting an event of that magnitude.
In Argentina, the coronavirus pandemic is at its worst, so the government led by Alberto Fernandez had to back down and decided not to receive South American football delegations.
With the bleak outlook, the South American Football Confederation, or Conmebol, found itself without having anywhere to turn on May 30.
Chile's proposal was not enough, because they offered a shared venue and not total organization for the event. They considered the US, and even Israel, as hosts of the competition, but logistics, in times of COVID-19, became impossible, especially when there are less than 15 days until the start of the tournament, which will be played from June 13 to July 10.
Conmebol called an emergency meeting with the federations of all participating countries. It was the last chance. Immediately, all eyes turned to Rogerio Caboclo, president of the Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF), who was denounced for sexual and moral harassment, for which he was removed from his post.
Under normal conditions, Brazil would be logical, since it was the last to host the America Cup in 2019, and has the most stadiums in proper condition. However, the third wave of coronavirus infections is imminent and, according to specialists, will peak during the second half of June.
Despite 479,515 deaths from the virus in Brazil, Caboclo agreed to communicate with the federal government to discuss the possibility.
To the surprise of many, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro promised to talk with ministers but gave an initial "green light" that surprised those in the meeting.
Hours later, Conmebol thanked the Brazilian president and the CBF for "opening the doors to the safest sports tournament in the world."
In minutes, news reverberated around the world. Shortly before the announcement, the streets of Brazilian cities were invaded by crowds who repudiated Bolsonaro's actions.
In addition, the pandemic situation, which was within certain stability in Brazil, became complicated, again.
But there was no turning back. The improvised organizing committee made up of the trident Conmebol, CBF and the government began to delineate possible venues. The first thing defined was the Mane Garrincha stadium in Brasilia, remodeled in 2013 for the Confederations Cup and the 2014 World Cup, would be the scene of the opening on June 13.
For the final, they considered mythical Maracana in Rio de Janeiro. The rest of the venues could be in the northeast, even Manaus, in the Amazon, which has experienced one of the worst health crises because of the virus.
The organization listened to the resounding refusals of governors and mayors of Porto Alegre in Rio Grande do Sul state), Recife in Pernambuco and Natal in Rio Grande do Norte.
However, it received the approval of Cuiaba (Mato Grosso), Salvador (Bahia) and Goiania (Goias). "We will not oppose it if the CBF designates Sao Paulo as its headquarters," said Joao Doria, Sao Paulo governor, and Bolsonaro's political enemy.
In addition to surprise, Doria's statement caused a lot of denunciation in the main Brazilian state. Shortly after, the governor reversed his statement.
"After extensive consultation with the entire health team about the event, we decided that receiving the matches would be a bad sign since our energies have to be put on stopping the virus," said Doria.
The clarification was not necessary because Sao Paulo did not enter into the plans of organizing heads.
On June 1, Bolsonaro was in charge of spreading the news that the America Cup would be held in the central west region with venues in Cuiaba, Goiania and Brasilia. The only city that does not belong to the axis and will be part of the tournament in Rio.
According to the improvised management of the continental event, centralizing the competition in one region helps to form "a health bubble" and prevents delegations from suffering long trip transfers. The other reason, unofficially, is that the governors of the four seats maintain a good relationship with Bolsonaro.
While waiting for the imminent third wave of infections, the four cities registered 989,536 COVID-19 infections and are almost at the limit of hospital capacities.
The most extreme case is Rio, which has 92% of beds destined for COVID-19 cases occupied. To try to protect from a catastrophe, the governors and mayors involved in the organization demanded that Conmebol and the government respect "the sanitary protocols against COVID-19” that is applied “in the first and second division of local professional football."
Given the guarantees, the first match of the contest between Brazil and Venezuela will take place at the Mane Garrincha stadium in Brasilia. "Conmebol has already sent us the schedule and they assured us that all sanitary measures will be met, so we see no problems in receiving the delegations," said Ibaneis Rocha, governor of the federal district and one of Bolsonaro's main allies. In addition, in Brasilia, there is also the Planalto Palace, the seat of the Brazilian government.
Beyond health protocols, authorities are preparing security measures to contain social protests. The federal capital is usually one of the main venues for demonstrations for and against the government. Even shortly after the designation of Brasilia as the venue, a group of students approached the Mane Garrincha to voice rejection of the Cup. “Let's do like Colombia. We don't want a Cup, we want vaccines,” read a banner.
On the other hand, members of the opposition to Bolsonaro are organizing a national mobilization June 19, which set off alarms in host cities.
More than 200 kilometers (124 miles) from Brasilia is Goiania, capital of the state of Goias, which became the great surprise of the roster that the tournament will receive. Unlike the rest of the venues, Goiania did not host matches for the 2014 World Cup or the last America Cup in 2019. But it hosted under-17 delegations that played in the World Cup in Brazil in 2019.
Located in the heart of the central-west region, Goiania will host five matches in the group stage and two in the quarterfinals. All will be played at the Pedro Ludovico Teixeira Olympic Stadium, which is not usually used by the two most popular teams in the city -- Goias Esporte Clube from Serie B that is local in Serra Dourada and Atletico Goianiense from Serie A and plays at Antonio Accioly stadium.
The Governor of Goias Ronaldo Caiado, an ally of Bolsonaro -- although they have had disputes -- and Mayor Rogerio Cruz, were in favor of holding the contest. However, State Secretary of Health Ismael Alexandrino warned: “We had to discuss it a lot, because the delegations that will arrive in Goias are foreign, which could serve as a transit for new virus variants. We have noticed several outbreaks of COVID-19 in the last two weeks and that is worrying."
“The mayor and the governor never considered us to decide if this cup could be played here. The truth is that there is a lack of medicines and it is not just about complying with protocols or playing without an audience, because the delegations are huge and different crowds are surely going to be generated. It is a very desperate situation since we found out that the America Cup would come to our state,” warned Dr. Carolina de Araujo Andrade, who specializes in infections.
Meanwhile, the occupancy in Goias hospitals stands at 89% and in the capital, Goiania, it climbed to 83%.
The capital of Mato Grosso, Cuiaba, has experience hosting international competitions. Its modern stadium, Arena Pantanal, was built especially for the 2014 World Cup.
It is currently used by Cuiaba Esporte Clube, which is competing for the Serie A of the Brazilian championship for the first time in its history and is managed by brothers Cristiano and Alessandro Dresch, entrepreneurs from the rubber industry, who together with their father, Aron Dresc, head of the Matogrossense Football Federation, contributed to the city being chosen as one of the venues for the America Cup.
Unlike cases in Goiania and Brasilia, the mayor of Cuiaba does not agree with holding the event but gave in to pressure from Governor Mauro Mendes of the Democratic Party, one of the main cards of Bolsonaro heading to the 2022 presidential elections
“The CBF guaranteed us that we will not have an audience at the games, that all sanitary requirements will be met, and, furthermore, we will not have to spend a penny. So why aren't we going to be part of this tournament that will show Mato Grosso to the world?” said Mendes.
However, Cuiaba Mayor Emanuel Pinheiro disagrees with Mendes. “I stated that this is not the time for America Cup, especially out of respect for the thousands of victims of COVID-19 in our state and those who still suffer from the virus. We would have to put all our energies in prevention, in obtaining vaccines and immunizing all our people," he said. His city where has Intensive Care Units (ICU) occupation that has already exceeded 87%.
Because the Brazilian championship and the Brazil Cup will not interrupt matches during the America Cup, Flamengo and Fluminense, teams from Rio de Janeiro that are usually local to the Maracana, are looking for makeshift homes in the interior of the state, while the revered venue is occupied by the subcontinental contest, although only the final will be played there.
Without a doubt, it will be Botafogo, another of Rio club, that will be most affected. The Nilton Santos, their home, will host five matches in the group stage and one each in the quarterfinals and semifinals.
Despite the fact that the Mayor of the Marvelous City Eduardo Paes first refused to be a part of the competition, a meeting with State Governor Claudio Castro changed everything.
“If Copa Libertadores and Sudamericana games are played here, and if the city is open to tourism, I do not understand what would be the reason for refusing to host the America Cup, which has better security protocols," he said.
It should be noted that scientific committees of the city and the state of Rio that were created exclusively to combat COVID-19, said they were not consulted before the decision.
“Nobody asked us anything. In my opinion, an event of this magnitude only contributes to increasing the risk of contagion in the city,” warned Alberto Chebabo, vice president of the Brazilian Society of Infectology and member of the Scientific Committee of the Mayor's Office of Rio. "We will have foreign delegations, international press, and members of the organization circulating from here to there.”
The number of deaths from coronavirus in the state of Rio is 52,094, the second-worst national figure behind Sao Paulo at 115,960. In the capital of Rio, the occupation of the hospitals exceeds 92%.
“Until a few days ago we were all confined and today they bring the America Cup to our city. The example they give people is terrible because it seems that it is time to relax, to have a party when we know that it is the opposite, ” protested María Rita Lopes dos Santos, a university professor living in Rio who contracted the virus.
The emergency call to Bolsonaro and the response of the president avoided losses of more than $100,000,000 for Conmebol.
The South American soccer body assured that its motivation is not economic. “We will have great economic losses, but that is not the point. Our goal is that the South American teams do not lose competitiveness in the face of the Qatar World Cup in 2022,” said the confederation. "The realization of this tournament found an inexplicable and subjective opposition, based on preconceptions and not on real data.”
Some players in Brazilian football and who will play the America Cup, such as Uruguayans Matias Vina and Giorgian De Arrascaeta expressed concern about playing in a country that has nearly 480,000 deaths from the pandemic.
“Personally, I think they should suspend it. We know how the situation is. But if we have to play it, we will have to do it, " said Vina.
“There are few countries in the world that do not experience this complicated situation, and Brazil is not one of them. This is not the right time to hold the America Cup here, ” said De Arrascaeta, who days ago tested positive for coronavirus and will remain in isolation in a hotel in Montevideo, where he was with his team.
*Maria Paula Triviño contributed with this note.Anadolu Agency website contains only a portion of the news stories offered to subscribers in the AA News Broadcasting System (HAS), and in summarized form. Please contact us for subscription options.