Brazilian soccer boss pushes clubs to play amid virus surge

SAO PAULO (AP) — The president of Brazil’s soccer confederation has pressured local clubs to continue playing despite a COVID-19 surge that has flooded hospitals with patients and taken the nation’s death toll to over 295,000.

Rogério Caboclo said in an online meeting with club executives that sponsors and broadcasters do not want another halt because of the pandemic, newspaper O Dia reported Tuesday after obtaining a video of the March 10 meeting.

Last year, professional soccer was stopped between March and June of 2020. Now, some Brazilian state governors and mayors are suspending matches again, as health experts recommend. That move has triggered protests from sports executives who are scrambling for ways to play on.

The Sao Paulo state championship, for example, will play this past weekend’s delayed round later Tuesday in Volta Redonda in the state of Rio de Janeiro because of COVID-19 restrictions even though the same city has so far refused to host Brazilian Cup matches. Fans have not been allowed to attend.

“Let’s think now — can we stop soccer? TV Globo doesn’t want it. No one wants it, your sponsors don’t want it,” Caboclo said. “And if we stop, when will we be sure to say we will be able to come back? Never.”

“I will set the rule in Brazilian soccer and will determine that there will be play,” Caboclo continued, adding that clubs risk losing broadcasting and sponsorship revenue if their teams don’t play.

TV Globo said in a statement after the O Dia report that “this is a moment for caution, and that the priority is the everyone’s safety.”

“We will follow and respect every protocol that is decided by soccer bodies,” the broadcaster said.

Later in the video, Mauricio Galiotte, the president of defending Copa Libertadores champions Palmeiras, suggested postponing the debate about a national halt of professional soccer — and Caboclo agreed.

The head of second-division club Avai congratulated Caboclo for his position. Francisco Battistotti cited “the political influence” in suspending the Santa Catarina state championship — in which Avai plays.

O Dia reported that Caboclo then asked other club presidents if any of them were against playing on, to which none responded.

“We are done, then,” Caboclo said.

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