The 2021 Copa América is set to get underway in Brazil Sunday with an opening match between Venezuela and the hosts (5 p.m. ET, Fox and Univision/TUDN), but the Venezuela team is going to look awfully different than expected. South American federation CONMEBOL announced Saturday that 13 members of Venezuela’s delegation (including players and others with the team) have tested positive for COVID-19, and it now looks like Venezuela will be flying in replacements. Here’s more on that from The New York Times:
Reports in Venezuela said the federation was preparing to charter a flight to send 14 replacement players to Brasília so that Sunday’s game could go ahead as planned. Another Venezuelan playing domestic soccer in Brazil also would be added to the roster, the reports said. Teams at the tournament were asked to submit a short list of as many as 60 players as organizers tried to put in place mitigation measures in case of a spate of positive tests.
Two players on Venezuela’s roster were forced to drop out after testing positive ahead of the team’s departure for Brazil on Thursday. The positives after the team’s arrival in Brazil will raise questions about the efficacy of those tests.
So this is going to be quite the opening match for this tournament. But this is not the first problem for this Copa América. The tournament was initially set to be held last summer in Argentina and Colombia, but was pushed to this year amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. However, it was taken away from Colombia last month over waves of street protests as well as pandemic concerns, then taken away from Argentina on May 30 over pandemic issues. It was then given to Brazil (which has the second-highest officially reported COVID-19 death toll in the world at 482,000 as of Saturday night, per World Health Organization data, behind only the U.S.’ 593,000) despite major pushback there, including even suggestions that Brazilian national team players might boycott (they eventually opted not to, but still expressed criticisms of the decision to move the tournament to Brazil without consulting them).
This also may not be the last COVID-19 issue for this Copa América. As that Times piece notes, there are now more questions about the pre-tournament testing. And we’re also seeing reports of other teams with positives, including Bolivia (set to face Paraguay at 8 p.m. ET Monday on FS1 and UniMás/TUDN):
Copa América: Bolívia tem quatro casos positivos de covid-19, diz jornal https://t.co/htVrgfdB1W
— UOL (@UOL) June 12, 2021
— ElDato.co (@eldato_co) June 12, 2021
So there may be more problems ahead. And this is also interesting from the broadcasting side, as this Copa América was supposed to be the first CONMEBOL tournament for both Fox and Univision under new broadcast deals. They’ve now both had to shift their broadcasting plans to an entirely new country from the ones initially supposed to host, and have had to do so on short notice. And now there are questions about just who’s going to be playing in these matches they’re broadcasting; whatever patch-job team Venezuela can field with 15 last-second additions sure isn’t what the broadcasters were expecting to feature. We’ll see how this tournament goes, but it’s definitely not off to a good start.