Copa America under threat with the coronavirus pandemic still a problem in Argentina and Colombia, who are the co-hosts

THE Euros is not the only international competition on the horizon. There is also the Copa America, co-hosted by Argentina and Colombia, which is due to take place between June 13th and July 10th.

Like the Euros, it was put back from last year after the coronavirus pandemic struck. And with the situation in South America especially bad, the pandemic is still a problem.

In the middle of last month Argentina’s president Alberto Fernandez sounded a note of caution, stating that the development of the pandemic would have to be followed closely before it could be confirmed that the competition could go ahead as planned.

Certainly there would seem no chance of having fans inside the stadiums. Conmebol, the local UEFA equivalent, have been pushing for 30 per cent of stadium capacity, but this now seems wildly optimistic.

Indeed, any predictions about the Copa are currently looking optimistic – because a fresh problem has emerged.

When President Fernandez of Argentina was giving voice to his doubts, Colombia’s president Ivan Duque was adamant that the tournament could go ahead.

The coronavirus situation is bad in his country, too. Local authorities in the capital, Bogota, have banned games from taking pace there – so alternative venues hurriedly had to be found for matches in the Copa Libertadores, South America’s Champions League.

Conmebol hope this will not be a problem come the Copa. The organisation has negotiated the delivery of 50,000 doses of vaccine for those involved in international competitions – players, coaching staff, etc, allowing them to believe that the fixture list can be completed.

But now Colombia has erupted in a wave of social violence. President Duque has introduced a new tax, which has not pleased a population suffering from both the health and economic consequences of the pandemic.

Many took to the streets to protest. The police response was seen as unnecessarily heavy-handed, which had the effect of further inflaming the protests. Over 20 people have lost their lives.

Last week, then, it was impossible for international matches to go ahead in Colombia, and not because of coronavirus. From the point of view of Conmebol, the worst case was that of the visit of Fluminense of Brazil to the Caribbean port of Barranquilla to meet Junior.

Barranquilla has one of South America’s most impressive stadiums – built for the 1986 World Cup, which ended up not taking place in Colombia. It is the home of the Colombian national team, and is the venue for the final of the Copa America on July 10th.

It was important for Conmebol that this game should go ahead. Fluminense checked with them before making the long journey. But once they had reached Barranquilla, it was clear that the match could not go ahead.

It would have been an extra target for protestors. And so, at the last minute, it was switched to Ecuador – where Kaiky, the 17 year old winger who is on his way to Manchester City, scored his first Libertadores goal for Fluminense in a 1-1 draw.

This, then, was a historic moment for a youngster of great promise. But the fact that it had to happen in Ecuador is very worrying.

It means that with five weeks to go until the kick off, the venue for the Copa America final was unable to stage an international club game – an extra reason to question whether it is wise to go ahead with the tournament.

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