How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected Brazilian football?

A year on from the outbreak of a pandemic that rocked the globe, things are still pretty dire in Brazil – and football is not exempt.

Under normal circumstances, all 27 of Brazil’s state championships would get underway in January and February, and would generally go on until April before reaching their climax in time for the Campeonato Brasileiro to kick off in May. But this is far from a normal year.

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Although the majority of the regional competitions got underway as planned, a number of them were postponed and the 2021 Rio Grande do Norte championship was cancelled due to the pandemic. Even the country’s most high-profile state championships have been significantly impacted; Rio de Janeiro’s Campeonato Carioca continues with games only being suspended in the state’s capital city between 26th March and 9th April, whereas São Paulo’s Campeonato Paulista was suspended between 15th March and 4th April.

On the surface this seems to make sense – it is plain to see that Brazil is struggling to cope with this pandemic. The seven-day average currently sits at over 2700 deaths caused by COVID-19 every day across the country, with a staggering total of around 331,500 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic, topped only by the USA.

It therefore seems inconceivable that football clubs based in a state that is currently enduring an emergency lockdown to contain the virus would be able to relocate some of their state championship fixtures to other states to allow them to be played, but this is exactly what is happening in Brazil. Despite the Campeonato Paulista being temporarily halted for the most part, some fixtures over the last week have actually been played in Volta Redonda, a city in the neighbouring state of Rio de Janeiro.

As well as games being played in neighbouring states, various clubs around the country have games scheduled to be played at the Estádio Nacional de Brasília Mané Garrincha in the Federal District, including fixtures in their respective state championships, CONMEBOL fixtures and the Brazilian Super Cup.

While there are no permanent tenants of the stadium itself (owing to the fact that the 70,000-seater is too large for the Federal District’s fourth-tier sides), it has been reported over the last week that the Federal District’s ICU COVID-19 beds are at around 95% capacity. Yet, it is only over the last couple of days that the clubs involved have been warned that these fixtures ‘might’ have to be put on hold.

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The CBF (Brazilian Football Federation) have made it clear that they do not want state championships to be suspended, most likely for fear of fixture congestion leading up to the start of the national leagues, as they believe that the protocol they have in place is “competent” and “extremely safe” for players, officials and anyone directly or indirectly involved in football.

Going back to the case of São Paulo, however, the University of São Paulo recently published the results of a study that suggested quite the opposite – they found that over the course of the 2020 season, 11.7% of players from the São Paulo Football Federation tested positive for COVID-19. This is a similar level of positive tests to those of frontline healthcare workers battling with the virus on a daily basis, and to put this number into context, Germany’s Bundesliga testing returned a proportion of just 0.6% positive tests in a similar timeframe.

There have been calls from all over the country to place the major state championships into a more rigorous break, but the governing bodies at both a state and federal level seem determined to avoid this at all costs. With this kind of stubbornness combined with Brazil’s stuttering vaccination programme, it is difficult to see a way out of this struggle any time soon.

The Author

James Lelliott

I am a 27-year-old Gillingham supporter, originally from Kent but currently based in London. I spent a year studying in Madrid and became infatuated with La Liga, having been fortunate enough to attend games involving the biggest clubs in Spain. My studies of Portuguese also extended this to Portuguese and Brazilian football, and through my posts I will be writing on the latest events across these leagues as well as diving into the history, culture and quirks thereof.

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