The South American Football Confederation (CONMEBOL) said on Sunday that Argentina would no longer host the Copa America, which challenged the troubled soccer tournament just 13 days before kick-off.
The tournament with 10 South American nations was to be held from June 13th to July 10th in Argentina and Colombia for the first time in its 105-year history with joint hosts.
However, Colombia was dropped as co-host on May 20 after a wave of protests spread across the country calling for social and economic change, and Argentina now obeyed due to the “current circumstances” CONMEBOL said.
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CONMEBOL has not disclosed the nature of the circumstances that led to the decision, but Argentina is currently experiencing a surge in COVID-19 cases.
“CONMEBOL is analyzing offers from other countries that have shown interest in hosting the continental tournament,” said a brief statement. “Updates will be announced shortly.”
Officials of the organization will meet on Monday to decide on the next steps for the tournament, which has been postponed from 2020 due to the pandemic.
Sunday’s breathtaking decision was announced shortly before 11 p.m. in Argentina at the end of a weekend when opposition to the tournament grew both inside and outside the government.
In Argentina, COVID-19 cases rose rapidly in May, prompting the government to order a strict new lockdown.
Thursday saw a record number of new cases in one day and the total death toll had reached 76,693 by the weekend, according to the World Health Organization.
Even some players who had returned to South America to prepare for the tournament expressed doubts Luis Suarez from Uruguay told reporters on Friday, “We must make people’s health a priority.”
Gonzalo Belloso, general secretary of CONMEBOL, said last week the organization had spoken to Chilean officials about maybe hosting some games there.
The organizers are reluctant to cancel the tournament because of its financial importance. The last Copa America, held in Brazil in 2019, raised $ 118 million and was the second largest annual source of income after the Copa Libertadores, the equivalent of the European Champions League.
This year, each participating nation is slated to receive at least $ 4 million, with the winner receiving an additional $ 10 million, CONMEBOL said.
CONMEBOL’s reputation has suffered greatly in recent years as fan violence in Buenos Aires forced the organization to move the second leg of the 2018 Copa Libertadores final to Madrid.