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Copa America: Brazil's top court to consider halting tournament

Brazil's Supreme Court has scheduled a hearing to decide whether the tournament will be allowed to kick off on Sunday, amid wide criticism and concerns over the spread of COVID-19.

A woman holds a sign to protest against Brazil holding the Copa America in Brasilia.

Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro gave his blessing to host Copa America, sparking critcism

Brazil's Supreme Court announced Tuesday that it would hold a hearing over the controversial hosting of the Copa America, set to start this Sunday.

Brazil was selected as a last-minute emergency venue for the South American football championship after previous co-hosts Colombia and Argentina were unable to host the event.

Scheduled just days before Copa America is due to begin, the session is based on two requests to block Brazil from hosting the tournament.

"Given the extraordinary nature of the case, I hereby grant the request to include the matter in an extraordinary virtual session of the court, to be held on Thursday, June 10," chief justice of the 11-member court Luiz Fux said.

Watch video 01:34

COVID-19: Can Copa America go ahead?

What is the case?

The Supreme Court agreed to hear two cases brought by the national metalworkers' union CNTM and by opposition Congressman Julio Delgado and his Brazilian Socialist Party (PSB).

CNTM argued that hosting Copa America "risks causing an increase in COVID-19 infections and deaths," the court said in a statement announcing it had agreed to hear the cases.

Delgado and PSB said hosting would violate "fundamental rights to life and health," also citing coronavirus concerns.

Other courts had also received requests to block the tournament, which will take place without supporters in attendance. 

The left-wing Workers' Party (PT) of former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who is likely to be President Jair Bolsonaro's main rival in the next election, also filed a similar request.

What is the controversy surrounding the tournament?

The Copa America was initially planned to be held in eight stadiums in Argentina and Colombia. Those plans were scrapped due to concerns over the spread of COVID-19 in Argentina and the anti-government unrest in Colombia. 

But Brazil has also consistently struggled during the pandemic, which has claimed nearly 475,000 lives in the South American country, second only to the United States. 

Watch video 02:56

Hunger and the COVID-19 pandemic: Millions in Brazil suffer deeply

Epidemiologists, coaches and players from the countries participating have voiced alarm that the tournament could exacerbate the coronavirus crisis in Brazil.

The tournament has become a politically loaded matter in Brazil. Far-right president Bolsonaro, who has a reputation for defying expert advice on COVID-19, gave his blessing to host the Copa America.

Brazil's Health Minister Marcelo Queiroga defended Brazil as host of Copa America before a Senate inquiry on the 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 earlier Tuesday. "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 said fans would not be allowed to attend matches, COVID-19 testing would be mandatory for teams every 48 hours. Officials also said players' movement would be restricted, and chartered flights would carry them to games in the four host cities.

The Copa America was already delayed last year because of the pandemic.

Brazil and Venezuela are scheduled to open the Copa America Sunday evening in Brasilia, unless Thursday's hearing puts a stop to the plans.

fb/msh (AFP, AP, SID)

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