— Sports

Copa America to be played regardless of fan attendance

BUENOS AIRES (AP) – This year’s Copa America tournament will be played “with or without fans,” CONMEBOL President Alejandro Dominguez said Wednesday.

Dominguez had said late last year that the tournament in Argentina and Colombia, which is scheduled to start June 13, could be in doubt because of the coronavirus pandemic.

But in an interview with The Associated Press, the leader of the South American football confederation pledged that the tournament will go ahead “as planned.”

It’s still unclear whether fans will be allowed to watch, however.

“That depends on the effectiveness of health campaigns and policies,” he said.

Deaths and hospitalizations caused by COVID-19 are on the rise in South America. Brazil’s death toll, second only to the United States’, is expected to go past 360,000 on Wednesday. The country’s seven-day average number of deaths hit a new record on Monday at 3,124. Several state championships were suspended in Brazil because of the collapse of the health care system.

Other countries in the region are also experiencing a rise in virus cases, which many health analysts have blamed on a potentially more contagious variant coming from Brazil.

CONMEBOL announced on Tuesday it will receive a donation of 50,000 vaccines from Chinese pharmaceutical company Sinovac. Players taking part in the Copa America are expected to be vaccinated, but local health authorities have said footballers will not be allowed to cut in line.

Dominguez said vaccination will not be mandatory for players.

Dominguez defended the decision to accept the vaccines and insisted that CONMEBOL was not taking doses away from others who need them more.

“It is not a batch that belonged to another country, it is a special batch for South American soccer made by Sinovac,” the CONMEBOL president said. “We can’t allow political opportunism for some to say this belonged to a group or to another country. This is management, we did it ourselves and we had open doors and great solidarity from the company.”

However, the donation has been criticized by other soccer figures.

“Soccer is fun, entertainment. Why should I take a vaccine ahead of essential workers just because I chair a soccer club?” Andres Rueda, president of Brazilian club Santos, told broadcaster SporTV.

Dominguez also hopes the access to vaccines will end European clubs’ concerns over allowing their players to come to South America for World Cup qualifiers. The two rounds scheduled for March had to be postponed as the virus spread in the region.

“I am surprised that FIFA has suspended the fixtures of CONMEBOL and still has authorized fixtures in Europe,” Dominguez said. “We hope we will play in June, let’s see how we reschedule the postponed fixtures.”

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AP Sports Writer Mauricio Savarese contributed to this report from Sao Paulo.

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More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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