Brazil top court to rule on country as Copa America host

SAO PAULO (AP) — Brazil’s top court scheduled an emergency session for Thursday to decide whether or not the Copa America will be allowed to kick off three days later.

It is the latest move casting doubt on a tournament that lost its original co-hosts, Colombia and Argentina, and faces resistance from fans and players amid the region’s alarming COVID-19 numbers.

Chief Justice Luiz Fux on Tuesday scheduled the special session so he and 10 other justices can cast their votes electronically.

Justice Carmen Lúcia said there is “exceptional urgency and relevance in the case, requiring a quick conclusion.”

The case was brought by the Brazilian Socialist Party and a trade union of metalworkers. The trade union argues Brazil should not hold international sporting events as long as social distancing is required.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro is a staunch advocate of his country holding the tournament after a last-minute request by South American soccer body CONMEBOL. He has spoken against social distancing policies and has claimed the economic impact of shutdowns kills more than the virus. More than 474,000 people have died of the disease in Brazil.

Brazil and Venezuela are scheduled to open the Copa America at the Mané Garrincha stadium Sunday evening in capital Brasilia. Bolsonaro has been invited to attend, but no fans will be allowed throughout the tournament.

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.”

The tournament will be played in three states, including populous Rio de Janeiro, plus the country’s Federal District, where Brasilia lies.

Brazil has hosted matches of South American World Cup qualifiers and continental club competitions such as the Copa Libertadores and the Copa Sudamericana.

Earlier on Tuesday, health minister Marcelo Queiroga defended Brazil as host of Copa America before a Senate inquiry on the federal government’s handling of pandemic response.

“With no attendance in the stadia we will not have the risk of gatherings and bigger contagion,” Queiroga 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.”

Brazil players are expected to speak about Copa America later Tuesday after their World Cup qualifying clash at Paraguay.

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