The Copa América, South America’s largest soccer tournament, will be played in Brazil instead of Argentina, which is suffering its worst outbreak of the pandemic, organizers said on Monday.
Conmebol, the South American soccer federation, said on Twitter that the games would be the “safest sporting event in the world” after announcing the change. The dates for the individual games and the specific stadiums will be announced later on Monday.
With the tournament due to begin in less than two weeks, organizers are scrambling to hold the event, the oldest regional soccer tournament in the world, at a time when the coronavirus is spreading faster in South America than anywhere else.
The games were originally scheduled to be held in Colombia and Argentina, but organizers dropped the Colombia portion earlier this month after a series of deadly protests there. In Argentina, the government and the public were torn over the wisdom of hosting a monthlong international tournament while the pandemic was raging, a discussion that mirrors the one taking place in Japan over holding the Tokyo Olympics this summer.
Five South American nations — Uruguay, Argentina, Paraguay, Colombia and Chile — are now among the top 10 in the world in newly reported cases per 100,000 residents.
Brazil, where new infections have slowed recently but remain high, has seen more deaths from Covid-19 than any nation besides India and the United States. Its president, Jair Bolsonaro, has repeatedly sneered at lockdowns, mask-wearing and other mitigation measures and scorned the guidance of health experts in dealing with the pandemic.
President Alberto Fernández of Argentina announced stringent lockdown measures last week, calling this time the country’s “worst moment in the pandemic.” Argentina now ranks third in the world, after neighboring Paraguay and Uruguay, in the number of deaths per capita over the past week, according to a New York Times database. The country of 45 million is reporting an average of more than 30,000 new cases a day, compared with 20,000 in the United States, whose population is more than seven times as large.
Mr. Fernández met last week with Alejandro Domínguez, the head of Conmebol, and presented a “strict protocol” for holding the tournament if the soccer federation wanted it to go ahead in Argentina as planned.
The 2020 edition of the Copa América was postponed by a year last spring after the start of the pandemic. In soccer-crazed Argentina, which last hosted the event in 2011, it was seen as a joyous occasion to host some of the sport’s biggest stars, including the country’s own Lionel Messi. But calls to move the tournament, which ordinarily takes place every four years, to somewhere other than Argentina have mounted in recent weeks, with opponents on Twitter using the hashtag #NoALaCopaAmericaEnArgentina, and #NoToTheCopaAmericaInArgentina.
Earlier this month, Conmebol removed Colombia as a co-host of the tournament after rejecting the country’s request to postpone it amid continuing civil unrest and antigovernment protests in which dozens of people have died.
That left Conmebol to consider holding the entire championship in Argentina, amid rumors that there could be a last-minute agreement to include another host, like Chile, a vaccination success story in South America that has fully inoculated more than 40 percent of its population. Vaccinations in many other parts of the region have been lagging, prompting some wealthy and middle-class Latin Americans to seek them in the United States instead.
Daniel Politi contributed reporting.