Brazil’s controversial decision to take on hosting rights to the 2021 Copa América is set to come under further scrutiny after the country’s Supreme Court said it will hold hearings on a request to block the staging of the national team football tournament.

Chief Justice Luiz Fux yesterday (Tuesday) said the Supreme Court will debate the matter at an extraordinary virtual session of the full court on Thursday due to the “exceptional nature of the case”.

ESPN.com, citing reports from Reuters and the Associated Press news agencies, said the case has been brought by the Brazilian Socialist Party and a trade union of metalworkers, who claim Brazil should not stage the tournament whilst social distancing measures are required due to COVID-19.  

The Brazilian Socialist Party said in its request to the court that “intense circulation of visitors in national territory will obviously disseminate the COVID-19 virus in several states, as well as potentially allow entry of new variants.” Justice Carmen Lucia said there was “exceptional urgency and relevance in the case, requiring a quick conclusion.”

With more than 476,000 deaths, Brazil has been the country worst affected by COVID-19, barring only the United States. President Jair Bolsonaro has been criticised for his approach to tackling the global pandemic, and backed the request from the South American Football Confederation (CONMEBOL) for Brazil to step in and take the hosting rights.

The postponed Copa América was initially thrown into uncertainty less than a month before it is due to begin after CONMEBOL stripped co-hosting rights from Colombia on May 20. CONMEBOL announced the news just hours after the Colombian government requested that the tournament, which is due to be held from June 13 to July 10, be granted a second postponement due to COVID-19 and civil unrest in the country.

CONMEBOL then announced last week that the tournament would be moved to Brazil after stripping Argentina of its co-hosting rights for the tournament. CONMEBOL said that decision had been taken due to a surge of COVID-19 cases in Argentina.

Stadia in the cities of Rio de Janeiro, Brasilia, Cuiabá and Goiânia were then chosen to host matches. Alejandro Dominguez, president of CONMEBOL, announced that the Maracanã (pictured) in Rio, Estádio Nacional Mané Garrincha in Brasília, Arena Pantanal in Cuiabá and Estádio Olímpico in Goiânia will stage the games.

However, the hosting of the Copa América in Brazil has continued to draw criticism, with the home nation’s players stepping back from a potential boycott yesterday. In a statement released through social media, Brazil’s squad said that while they were “unsatisfied” with CONMEBOL’s decision, they didn’t want to turn the staging of the tournament into a political debate.

“We are a cohesive group, but with different ideas,” the players’ post said. “For multiple reasons, humanitarian or of professional nature, we are unsatisfied with the leading of Copa America by CONMEBOL, no matter if it were hosted belatedly in Chile or in Brazil. All the recent facts make us believe it was an inadequate process.”

Earlier on Tuesday, Health Minister Marcelo Queiroga defended Brazil’s staging of the Copa América in front of a Senate inquiry into the federal government’s handling of COVID-19 response. “With no attendance in the stadia we will not have the risk of gatherings and bigger contagion,” he said.

“The risk for a person to contract COVID-19 will be the same with the matches on, or without them. I am not saying there will be no risks; I am saying there is no additional risk.”

Image: Erica Ramalho/Portal da Copa/Março de 2013/CC BY 3.0 BR/Edited for size