Brazilian footballers criticise Copa America switch as supreme court schedules hearing

Members of the Brazil soccer team have criticised CONMEBOL's last-minute decision to host the Copa America amid the deadly coronavirus pandemic, but said they would play in the 10-nation tournament that kicks off in Brasilia on Sunday.

Brazil was unexpectedly chosen to stage the Copa America after co-host Colombia was removed amid ongoing civil unrest and Argentina withdrew due to a surge in COVID-19 cases.

Multiple news reports in Brazil had said the players were upset at not being consulted about the decision as well as the possible public health consequences, with some players reportedly reluctant to take part.

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The Brazil players said In a statement posted online early on Wednesday that they were "not satisfied" with the way the South American Football Confederation (CONMEBOL) had handled the decision.

"For different reasons, be they humanitarian or professional, we are not satisfied with the way the Copa America has been handled by CONMEBOL," the players said.

"All the recent facts lead us to believe in an inadequate process in realising [the tournament]."

They added that they did not want to make their opposition a political issue and said they had never considered a boycott.

"We are against the organisation of the Copa America but we will never say no to playing for Brazil," the statement read.

The statement came soon after Brazil had defeated Paraguay 2-0 in a World Cup qualifier in Asuncion, a result that leaves them in pole position to qualify for the World Cup in Qatar 2022.

The decision by Brazil President Jair Bolsonaro to green light the hosting of the tournament was met with surprise, given the country has recorded more than 476,000 deaths from COVID-19 -- more than any other country outside the U.S.

In response to Bolsonaro's decision, Brazil's top court has scheduled an emergency session for Thursday to decide whether the Copa America should be allowed to kick off on Sunday.

Chief Justice Luiz Fux confirmed on Tuesday that a special Supreme Court session had been scheduled so that he and 10 other justices could cast their votes electronically.

Justice Carmen Lucia said there was "exceptional urgency and relevance in the case, requiring a quick conclusion.''

The case was brought by the Brazilian Socialist Party and a trade union of metalworkers. The trade union argues Brazil should not hold international sporting events while social distancing is required.

President Bolsonaro is a staunch advocate of his country holding the tournament after a last-minute request by CONMEBOL. He has spoken against social-distancing policies, and has claimed that the economic impact of shutdowns kills more people than does the virus.

The Brazilian Socialist Party said in its request to the court that "intense circulation of visitors in national territory will obviously disseminate the COVID-19 virus in several states, as well as potentially allow entry of new variants.''

The tournament will be played in three states, including populous Rio de Janeiro, plus the country's Federal District that includes Brasilia.

Earlier on Tuesday, health minister Marcelo Queiroga defended Brazil as host of that Copa America before a Senate inquiry on the federal government's handling of pandemic response.

"With no attendance in the stadia we will not have the risk of gatherings and bigger contagion,'' Queiroga said. "The risk for a person to contract COVID-19 will be the same with the matches on or without them. I am not saying there will be no risks; I am saying there is no additional risk.''

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.