VMaybe Jair Bolsonaro remembered the pictures from July 2019. At that time – even before the pandemic – the Brazilian president was celebrated with the national team. The crowd in the sold-out Maracanã stadium in Rio de Janeiro cheered at the Copa América, the South American championship, about the Seleção’s first title in years. The team and the president presented themselves with a trophy for a jubilee photo. The message behind it: With him, better times come back.
Almost two years later, Brazil is deep in the corona pandemic. Hunger and poverty due to the accompanying economic crisis are palpable and visible everywhere. Nevertheless, Bolsonaro insists on the course of unconditional opening of the economy and trade, no matter how bad the corona conditions are. Officially, there have been 460,000 corona deaths so far. Unlike Europe, Brazil may be at the beginning of a new wave. The country is also classified as a virus variant area. On the day on which the South American association Conmebol announced the decision to transfer the Copa America, handed in by Argentina because of the epidemiological emergency and by Colombia for police violence and road blockades, to Brazil, the daily Folha from São Paulo counted 61,000 new infections.
Bolsonaro expected the football-mad Brazilians to thank him for the second Copa America in his own country in two years. And the opposition had just sent hundreds of thousands of people to mass protests on the streets, even if, unlike the participants in pro Bolsonaro demos, they mostly wore masks. On top of that, Conmebol promises a safe tournament, largely without spectators and, thanks to a donation from a Chinese vaccine manufacturer, also with vaccinated delegations. But the majority of Brazilians find such a tournament unsuitable.
“Irresponsible on the part of the government”
In an interview with the FAZ, political scientist Roberto Gulart summed up the mood in Brazil: “At this moment it is irresponsible on the part of the government and regional governors to accept the hosting of Copa America games.” Social scientist Vitor Del Rey from the Guetto Institute sees it similarly , who suspects political motives: Seeing the people on the street, his opponents as well as his own supporters, gave Bolsonaro an option to bring the Copa America to Brazil. “That was a wonderful argument for him.”
But contrary to what the president had hoped for, the predominant tenor in social networks, the media and also in society is negative. Populist Bolsonaro has apparently misjudged the actual mood in the football country Brazil, especially since numerous, but not all, ultra-movements in the fan scene have a clear anti-Bolsonaro stance.
Conmebol is also under criticism. In view of the street battles in Colombia, the continental association could have foreseen at the beginning of May that one of the two co-hosts would be canceled. At the latest when Argentina reported exploding corona numbers in mid-May, the emergency plans should have been on the table. Instead, Conmebol President Alejandro Domínguez turned to Bolsonaro when it was practically too late. In the meantime, in view of the fierce resistance, the Brazilian government is also keeping its distance and suddenly only spoke of negotiations with Conmebol.
In addition to the tens of millions of dollars in financial losses for TV rights, another precedent has been set. The fact that public pressure could prevent such a prominent tournament from being held is new in South America. In Brazil, in the run-up to the 2013 Confederations Cup and 2014 World Cup, thousands took to the streets to demonstrate against the horrific investments in the World Cup stadiums while hospitals and schools were in dire condition. “We won’t have a copa,” people shouted at the time. They got it anyway – plus gigantic corruption scandals and deep frustration with the then left-wing government of Dilma Rousseff – and in the end Jair Bolsonaro too.