Colombia ruled out as hosts for 2021 Copa America due to unrest

The 2021 Copa America will no longer feature games in co-host Colombia after CONMEBOL decided on Thursday to move games away from the country after a wave of civil unrest.

"CONMEBOL guarantees the realization of the 2021 Copa America and in the coming days will inform on where the games originally scheduled to be held in Colombia will be played," CONMEBOL said in a statement.

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The 2021 tournament was due to be held jointly by Colombia and Argentina, with the latter also facing hosting difficulties due to a resurgence of COVID-19 cases.

Joint-hosts Colombia asked to postpone the Copa America tournament until spectators can be present at stadiums, sports minister Ernesto Lucena said on Thursday, before CONMEBOL issued its statement that the tournament will not take place there.

CONMEBOL said it was impossible to postpone the tournament to November as Colombia requested "due to conflict with the international calendar."

The tournament, due to kick off on June 13, was set to be held in two countries for the first time in its 105-year history, but now Colombia will not be involved.

Argentina earlier this week offered to host the whole tournament amid weeks of anti-government protests in Colombia.

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.

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.

Tear gas fired outside some Colombian stadiums during recent matches has led to discomfort for players. Some games have already been transferred out of Colombia to Paraguay and Ecuador.

Fifteen games were slated for Colombia and 13 games are scheduled for Argentina.

The original Copa America plan had Buenos Aires hosting the opening match, a quarterfinal and a semifinal. The cities of Cordoba, 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.

Meanwhile, the semifinals of the Argentine league playoffs were postponed by at least 10 days on Friday, amid a new surge of the COVID-19 virus in the South American nation.

The Argentine Football Association said Saturday's scheduled match between Independiente and Colon as well as Sunday's game between Boca Juniors and Racing Club were both postponed.

"We are working...to rescheduled the semi finals and final," the organisation said.

All other domestic leagues are also suspended.

Argentine President Alberto Fernandez announced a strict lockdown on Thursday that begins this weekend and will last until at least May 31.

The move includes a ban on all sporting, religious and social events, in addition to closing schools and non-essential commerce.

Some 72,699 people have died from COVID-19 in Argentina, with the highest number of daily deaths occurring earlier this week.

Information from Reuters and the Associated Press was used in this story.