Brazilian soccer under pressure to stop as COVID-19 surges

SAO PAULO (AP) — Three Brazilian states have halted their professional soccer local leagues due to a spike in hospitalizations and deaths caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

The state government of Ceará, in northeastern Brazil, on Thursday ordered the local league to stop playing, but is still allowing its clubs to take part in the Brazilian Cup. The soccer bodies in Paraná and Santa Catarina, both in the country’s south, also suspended their leagues.

Almost 260,000 people have died of COVID-19 in Brazil, whose death toll is second only to the United States. Many Brazilian governors expect the next two weeks to be the deadliest in the South American nation since the pandemic hit one year ago.

A handful of coaches and players have started a public debate on whether soccer should be stopped all together. Lisca, the coach of recently promoted America, was the most vocal proponent for a suspension of play.

“I am appealing to the Brazilian FA to give the Brazilian Cup a break so we can postpone these matches for a little time,” Lisca said after his team’s 1-0 win over Athletic in the local state championship on Wednesday. “I am losing friends. I know that soccer is entertainment, and it is important for people at home. But our lives are more important, we are not super heroes.”

Gremio coach Renato Portaluppi disagreed in a news conference Wednesday night, saying tests and constant medical follow-ups make the sport very safe to play.

“Also, we are doing people a favor because when we play it is another reason for fans to stay home,” Portaluppi said.

Portaluppi is a friend of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who has long downplayed the risks of the virus.

On Tuesday, Sao Paulo-based Corinthians said eight players had tested positive one day before its local league derby against rivals Palmeiras, which requested the game to be postponed. The match went ahead anyway and ended in a 2-2 draw.

Brazil halted all professional soccer in March 2020, with training sessions resuming in some states in May. The main national championship, which traditionally begins in May, started in August and finished in February with Flamengo defending its title.

Brazil’s soccer confederation has not commented on the renewed requests for games to be suspended. Bolsonaro is against any form of lockdown and is pushing for fans to return to games.

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