A Colombia fan. (AP)

A Colombia fan. (AP)

LatAm in Focus: A Complicated Copa América

By Chase Harrison

The tournament takes place in Brazil, which wasn’t even slated to host. The Athletic’s Felipe Cárdenas explains why politics and the pandemic have super fans and players nervous.

Felipe Cardenas

On July 13, the 2021 Copa América will kick off in an almost empty stadium in Brasília. The tournament, which will see ten teams from across South America compete, wasn’t even originally slated to be held in Brazil. Instead, Argentina and Colombia were set to cohost the event before a combination of COVID-19 and social unrest led them to forfeit their hosting duties. But with Brazil battling the pandemic, politicians, players, coaches, and even fans are asking: is now the right time for South America to have a major sporting event?

“What has happened…has been really like a microcosm of the biggest issues involving politics, sport, and COVID-19,” says Felipe Cárdenas, a staff writer covering soccer for The Athletic. He explains to AS/COA Online’s Chase Harrison that CONMEBOL, the South American soccer federation, and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro hope that the Copa America will be a welcome distraction for a soccer-loving continent battered by the pandemic. After all, “Soccer is the great unifier in South America,” Cárdenas notes.

And, of course, it’s a major moneymaker.

The matches to be held in four Brazilian cities, will be under strict Covid protocols established in the two weeks since the country announced it would house the tournament. “Doing everything that is possible to get this tournament to play under these circumstances has really rubbed citizens the wrong way,” says Cárdenas. The preparations include giving players early access to vaccines—controversial in a country where vaccine access is already limited.

"You have the most popular national team...perhaps in the world publicly against and opposing this tournament being held in their country."

There are other reasons for concern. “What happens if Brazil has a poor performance and the public outcry against the tournament goes to another level? If a player test positive for COVID-19? If there are public disturbances around the stadium?” asks Cárdenas. He says that any of these scenarios could impact the ability of the region to host major sporting events in the future, including a South American regional bid to host the World Cup in 2030—notably on the 100-year anniversary of the first one held in Uruguay.

Even if it goes well, Cárdenas says it puts fans like himself in an uncomfortable position: “They're in this philosophical sort of crisis of whether or not to support their national team.

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Katie Hopkins produced this episode. The music in this podcast was performed at Americas Society in New York. Learn more about upcoming concerts at musicoftheamericas.org.