By Carolina Mandl
SAO PAULO, Jun 9 (.) – Mastercard Inc and beverage company Ambev, major sponsors of South American soccer, withdrew from the Copa América on Wednesday after players criticized organizers for moving the tournament to Brazil despite one of the worst COVID-19 outbreaks in the world.
Last week, the South American Soccer Confederation unexpectedly relocated the tournament, which begins Sunday, after Colombia was sidelined from the co-organization due to civil unrest and Argentina withdrew due to a surge in coronavirus infections.
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who has downplayed the severity of the coronavirus and criticized the lockdowns, gave his support for the measure. But public health experts, high court judges and soccer players have questioned the advisability of organizing the tournament in the midst of a pandemic.
More than 475,000 Brazilians have died from COVID-19, the worst official death toll outside the United States, and experts warn that the country is approaching a third wave along with the arrival of winter in the southern hemisphere.
The Brazilian soccer team cited “humanitarian” concerns in criticizing the organization of the Copa América on Wednesday, but pledged to participate in the tournament following rumors of a potential boycott.
Mastercard Inc said it decided not to “activate” its sponsorship of the Copa América in Brazil after a thorough analysis, meaning it will temporarily remove its brand from an event it has sponsored since 1992. Ambev SA, the unit of brewery AB InBev who sponsors both the tournament and the Brazilian team, also said that “their brands will not be present at the Copa América.”
(Reporting by Carolina Mandl; Additional information by Andrew Downie and Anthony Boadle. Edited in Spanish by Rodrigo Charme)