Should Brazilian authorities take a break from a coronavirus pandemic? Miguel Cincariol/Getty Images
One of the big football events was supposed to take place on Tuesday. Brazil were to play Argentina in World Cup qualifying.
– Live coverage of the game on ESPN+ (US only).
But while international matches are being played on many continents, the coronavirus pandemic has led to the postponement of CONEMBOL’s two World Cup qualifying rounds in South America in March.
This is largely because the number of cases of the virus continues to rise sharply in Brazil, where the pandemic is most severe, with about 3,000 deaths per day and a total death toll of about 315,000.
Some European countries require newcomers from South America, particularly Brazil, to undergo a quarantine period, meaning that many European clubs are not obliged to release their players for international assignments. Colombia and Peru have banned the import of aircraft from Brazil and other countries.
With just over ten weeks to go before the Copa America, this is clearly a cause for concern. The competition is split between Argentina and Colombia, with Brazil playing their group stage matches in Colombia. Almost all South American teams have players from Brazil. Teams from ten countries will cross the continent. And if the pandemic is giving the Copa America headaches, the same is true at club level, with the group stage of the Copa Libertadores starting in three weeks.
At this stage of the year, teams compete in each of Brazil’s 27 states. In 11 of those states, the local union has taken a break – usually a short-term measure. By far the most important of these tournaments is the State Championship of Sao Paulo, where teams like Corinthians, Sao Paulo, Palmeiras and Santos participate. And while local authorities are forcing players to suspend play, competitors are trying to get around the problem by holding games in other states.
This begs the question: should football in Brazil be stopped?
The football authorities have always said that the teams and players are safe. A recent study by the University of São Paulo, which examined tests from eight tournaments – six men’s and two women’s leagues – at the highest level of the pyramid, found that the percentage of positive cases among players was as high as 11.7%, which is comparable to the percentage of positive cases among health professionals in the country.
Professor Bruno Gollano, who coordinated the study, told Globo Esporte that the risk of infection is greater when safety protocols are not followed outside the field.
Teams travel a lot to play their games. Smaller teams ride the bus, eat at restaurants, and are probably much more exposed than the elite. Our social inequalities are also reflected in football, Galano said.
Although our data show that gamblers usually develop only mild symptoms or are asymptomatic, they may act as a transmission vector for the community. Generally, they are people with very active social lives, he added.
A notable incident took place earlier this month when Flamengo striker Gabriel Barbosa, one of the biggest stars in local football, was arrested in an underground casino in Sao Paulo. He later apologized after he was fired.
Most people don’t follow the rules and therefore don’t get punished, Galano said.
The question of whether Brazilian football should get a break is a complicated one. There are no easy answers, no magic solutions. While the authorities who run these state tournaments continue to claim that security is guaranteed, they should do more to enforce their own protocols for staff and players, especially when off duty.
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