Against the Death Cup: Political struggles around the Copa América in Brazil

Micael Zaramella – FLAF Américas

Last week, after being refused by Colombia and Argentina, the Copa América was moved to Brazil and started to be played despite the occurrence of protests and political manifestations surrounding its realization. Despite the risk of increasing Covid-19 cases – reason that influenced both Colombia and Argentina to be hosts of the tournament – the Brazilian government led by the far-right president Jair Bolsonaro accepted to host the cup, which immediately triggered the realization of different political protests organized by social movements, fans organizations and even the Brazilian team itself in a specific moment.

Brazil actually presents worrying numbers of Covid-19 cases and deaths, and even with the Conmebol health protocol – which includes the realization of the matches without audiences – the organization of the tournament triggered an intense debate in the Brazilian society around the pertinence of such event in pandemic times. Athletes and teams from other South American countries expressed worries that resounded in internal disagreements in the Brazilian team, which organized a reunion to discuss an official position around the realization (or not) of the Cup.

Meanwhile, the president of the Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF), Rogério Caboclo, was removed on charges of sexual and moral harassment against an employee of the institution, which led to a deepening crisis of the CBF on the context. After all, the Brazilian team decided to play the Cup, even with some criticism by part of the athletes and professionals.

Simultaneously, in the sphere of civil society, different movements formed by supporters and football fans organized public manifestations against the realization of the Copa América, protesting in front of the stadiums where the matches are being played. By the same context, numerous manifestations against Jair Bolsonaro’s government had been organized in the major Brazilian cities streets, and many of these protest marches have included the “Contra a Copa da morte” slogan, which means “against the death cup”.

The struggles and intense debate around the realization (or not) of the Copa América led to the withdrawal of several sponsors of the tournament, worried to have its image linked to the event. Many cities refused to host the tournament, which ended to be realized in cities and states ruled by pro Bolsonaro governors. The biggest television corporation of the country, which traditionally monopolized the transmission of sportive competitions, decided not to broadcast the matches, although it officially doesn’t oppose to the realization of the Cup. The event ended to be sponsored by Brazilian companies that are friendly to the Bolsonaro administration, and broadcasted by another television corporation that also stands for the government. The lowest TV audience in the tournament broadcast history reveals that the Brazilian population isn’t favorable, or at least, not very interested in its realization. The tragic result is the realization of the Copa América, a traditional South American football tournament, as a typical pro Bolsonaro event, completely linked to the negationist far-right orientation that characterizes his office.