Belo Horizonte, Brazil – Diego Santos squinted at the silent TV screen of the popular Belo Horizonte bar and restaurant where he was the manager.
Santos is talking about a lack of interest in this year’s Copa America-football’s oldest event-and the host Brazil is facing Peru.
Suddenly, the Brazilian team seemed to have scored. Santos looked around for confirmation, but few customers would pay attention to the game, let alone celebrate.
The silence, hanging in the air like the great Pele jumping for a header, was louder than anything Santos had just said.
But this is usually not the case. This stylish bar-restaurant is one of many restaurants located in the shadow of the huge Mineirao, the stadium is known for hosting Brazil’s biggest sports stigma: the 2014 World Cup lost 7-1 to Germany.
Sitting by the lake of Pampulha, with countless TVs, this is a good place to watch football. Two years ago, when the five-time world champion Brazil won the last America’s Cup, the venue was besieged-also at home.
This year, this place is very quiet.
“It was spectacular two years ago,” Santos told Al Jazeera, recalling the line of yellow and green fans outside, and security guards shut out revelers.
“But this year, no one asked if we were showing the game. No one cares. More people are wearing domestic team jerseys than Espanyol jerseys, and I have received more requests to broadcast the European Championship than the Copa America. .”
Lionel Messi at the 2021 Copa America:
• Most goals scored (3)
• Most assists (2)
• Most dribbles completed (21)
• Most hit targets (10)
• The most accurate last 3 passes (84)
excellent. 🤩 pic.twitter.com/4hcB5YXjUE
— PF | Transfer News (@PurelyFootball) June 30, 2021
More indifferent than worship
The most obvious explanation for the lack of atmosphere is the coronavirus pandemic. Brazil has reported more than 18.5 million cases, including 518,066 deaths, the second highest death toll in the world after the United States.
Due to delays in vaccination programs and the government’s unwillingness to promote social distancing measures, Brazil continues to die more people from COVID every day than any other country.
However, COVID is not the only reason people stay away from the America’s Cup.
Intense politicization has permeated everything from broadcast rights to the famous yellow jersey.
In addition, the ongoing domestic leagues in Brazil and the European Championships in which Cristiano Ronaldo, world player of the year Robert Lewandowski and world champion France are participating have created an oversaturated football calendar. The team is no longer the biggest rally.
Even the freshness of the South American Championship is fading. This year’s European Cup is the first time since 2016, but the America’s Cup has been held four times since 2015.
All these factors ensure that the game produces more indifference than admiration among Brazilians.
Selecao kicked off with a 3-0 victory over Venezuela on June 13-like all matches so far, without fans in the stadium-setting a record for the lowest number of TV viewers in the country for the first game in the history of the game. Since then, the ratings have hardly improved.
“It is impossible to say that COVID is the only cause,” said Cristiano Ferreira, a soldier in Belem, 2,500 kilometers (1,553 miles) north of Belo Horizonte.
“We have a big [health] Problems earlier this year, but now the city is calm. Many people returned to the street and the bar opened again. This is almost normal. People here love football, so there are a lot of discussions about the local teams Remo and Paysandu. But I did not observe any enthusiasm for Spanish football clubs or the Copa America. “
Traditionally, especially during the World Cup, Brazil’s streets are decorated with paint and stickers, cars are decorated with national flags, and Brazil’s jerseys are almost everywhere.
However, this year, as the streets are empty, the conspicuous yellow jersey is now related to supporting the performance of Brazil’s far-right President Jal Bolsonaro, and there is no sign that the country is going through a major game.
“In Belém, there are small flags hanging on the street, and it’s normal for everyone to wear this shirt,” Ferreira added. “Although there is no such thing. It’s normal for bars to have big screens to broadcast matches, but this year I didn’t even observe them. People don’t seem to be interested.”
It’s normal for bars to have big screens to broadcast matches, but I didn’t even observe them this year.
‘Like a bad joke’
Considering that the Copa America was supposed to be held in Colombia and Argentina, but due to civil unrest and COVID-19 were cancelled, this situation should not come as a surprise.
Bolsonaro sought a weapon that could distract himself and the country’s countless problems. He offered to host this 28-match tournament despite the advice of the country’s incredible health experts.
Bolsonaro is no stranger to criticism, and he faces strong opposition. Several multinational corporate sponsors withdrew, and opposition politicians called the event a “death plan.”
Walter Casagrande, who represented Brazil in the 1986 World Cup, accused the president of “genocide.”
Before issuing a sophistry confirming participation, the national team hinted that it might even refuse the game.
Although the event organizer CONMEBOL is the regional governing body of football and promised to vaccinate 65 members of each of the 10 national delegations, the number of positive tests has been worrying.
CONMEBOL, together with the Ministry of Health, stated that as of Friday, 166 people had tested positive: 115 outsourced service personnel, 31 team members, 17 players and 3 organizers.
Although the Brazilian players gave up the opportunity to speak, Bolivia’s Marcelo Moreno did not.
After the test was positive, the veteran forward expressed his anger on Instagram: “Thanks to Comebol. It’s all your fault! If a person dies, what will you do? All that matters to you is money . Is a player’s life worth nothing?”
He later apologized and accused his press officer, but before being suspended for one game and fined $20,000.
“Holding a competition during the pandemic is totally absurd,” Rio de Janeiro sports teacher and personal trainer Andrio Machado, who will host the final, told Al Jazeera.
“Almost no measures have been taken to reduce the spread of the virus and its variants, but there are rumors that Maracana will allow fans to enter the finals. This is like a bad joke.”
Soap opera is better than football
After several possible host cities were refused consideration, two of the five venues for the game were in Rio.
These include the jungle city of Manaus, which became the first city in Brazil to excavate mass graves last year. Just six months ago, it faced an emergency after its oxygen supply ran out, which triggered a crisis and a parliamentary investigation.
Located in the center of the Amazon rainforest, when the city was touted as a potential host, Mayor David Almeida declared: “Now is not the time to celebrate, it is time to get vaccinated.”
However, Rony Brasil, a taxi driver who works in Manaus, has noticed that it has returned to normal in recent weeks. Last week, when Brazil played against Colombia, he went to a local bar to meet with friends, but especially did not go to see Neymar and his team.
“We went to see Flamenco. There were eight tables full of people in the bar. When the flamenco game ended, the Brazilian game started, but out of the eight tables, only four were left. . Everyone else has gone home,” Brazil told Al Jazeera.
“Here, at least in Manaus, the Copa America has not received much attention. Not competitive enough. This is not like Europe with many great teams. We only have Brazil, Argentina, and perhaps Uruguay.”
Observational data shows that Manaus Bar is the epitome of the country.
Brazil’s leading broadcaster Globo has lost the right to compete with SBT in the America’s Cup. However, during the four group matches in Brazil, it maintained a larger audience.
Even when Selecao beat Peru 4-0, the number of people watching religious soap operas more than tripled.
According to data from the Institute of Public Opinion and Statistics, since 2019, the number of spectators at the event has decreased by about 60%.
However, although the Brazilians agree that the interest so far is small, they also agree that if their country reaches the finals, the situation may change.
With Brazil and Argentina topping their respective teams, the two rivals will meet in the tiebreaker on July 10.
But first, Brazil must beat Chile on Friday.
Bar restaurant manager Santos said: “No one cares now, but if the Brazilian team goes all the way, fans will start to show up.”
“If the final is against Argentina, you can be sure they will take off their yellow shirts and come over to watch.”