SAO PAULO: South American soccer body CONMEBOL announced on Thursday that Colombia will not co-host next month's Copa America, a decision reached less than a month before the opening match and amid a wave of street protests against Colombian President Ivan Duque.
It would have been the first Copa America hosted by two countries.
Hours earlier Colombian authorities asked CONMEBOL to postpone the tournament, which is also organized by Argentina. Sports Minister Ernesto Lucena told journalists it should take place in the end of the year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Copa America is scheduled to be played between June 13 and July 10.
CONMEBOL said in a statement it was impossible to postpone the tournament to November and assured it will inform “on the next days about the relocation of the matches which should be played in Colombia.”
On Tuesday, Argentinian President Alberto Fernández said his country would consider hosting the entire Copa America if Colombia was unable to co-host because of social unrest.
The protests in Colombia began April 28 after President Ivan Duque attempted to ram through a tax increase amid a pandemic that has left millions without work or food. Although he quickly backed down, protesters have remained on the streets, broadening their fight to include grievances ranging from the decrepit state of Colombia’s health care and education systems to the slow implementation of a 2016 peace deal with Marxist rebels
Last week, police and protesters clashed in the Colombian cities of Pereira and Barranquilla, the latter of which was scheduled to hold the Copa America final.
A Copa Libertadores match last week between Colombia’s América de Cali and Brazil’s Atlético Mineiro was interrupted several times because of tear gas used to disperse the protesters.
The original Copa America plan had Buenos Aires hosting the opening match, a quarterfinal and a semifinal. The cities of Córdoba, Mendoza and Santiago del Estero were to hold Group A matches
This edition of Copa America was going to feature a new format with five teams based in each of the host countries. Group A features Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay. Group B includes Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela. The four best teams in each group advance to the knockout stage.
Qatar, the 2022 World Cup hosts, and Australia, both scheduled to play as guests, decided in February to withdraw from the tournament due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The decision to remove Colombia as a tournament host doesn't assure calmer days for Copa America. Argentina has recently hit a record number of daily cases and deaths from COVID-19. The South American country has had more than 3.4 million cases and more than 72,000 deaths from the virus.