A trio of corporate sponsors — Mastercard, Ambev and Diageo — have pulled their brands from the Copa America football competition in Brazil, which is due to kick off on Sunday in spite of the country’s raging Covid-19 crisis.
Latin America’s largest nation offered to host the regional tournament at the end of last month after previous co-hosts Argentina and Colombia cancelled. Buenos Aires cited an increasing number of coronavirus cases, while Bogotá blamed domestic protests.
Brazil’s decision to step in, which had the backing of rightwing president Jair Bolsonaro, drew censure from many medical figures and opposition politicians, who argued it risked further spreading the virus as the pandemic continues unabated in the country.
Mastercard said after careful analysis it had decided to remove its branding from this year’s Copa America, though it will remain a sponsor of the competition, which was already postponed in 2020.
British alcoholic drinks group Diageo, which owns Smirnoff, Guinness and Johnnie Walker, said it would stop all brand activities “given the current health situation in Brazil and in respect of the timing of the Covid-19 pandemic”.
“The sponsorship terms were agreed upon when the event was scheduled to be held in Colombia and Argentina,” the company added. “Diageo reiterates its commitment to society, observing safety protocols and institutional actions that contribute to the mitigation of the pandemic.”
Brazilian beer maker Ambev, which is part of the world’s largest brewer AB InBev, said “its brands will not be present at the Copa America”.
The votes of no confidence come as Brazil faces a potential third wave of Covid-19 infections with the cooler season setting in.
At more than 480,000 lives lost, the country has the second-highest death toll from the respiratory disease after the US. A shortage of jabs has stymied vaccination campaigns.
“We are still in a very serious situation,” said Marcelo Ramos, a researcher in public health at the Fiocruz biomedical institute. “When it was announced that Brazil would host the Copa America, the message was that we are in a calm situation, which does not correspond to reality.”
However, the country’s health minister this week insisted holding the football competition would not generate any additional risk of contamination, since no fans would be attending matches.
Bolsonaro has earned international opprobrium for his handling of the pandemic, which has included disparaging the use of masks and talking down the importance of vaccines.
But the former army captain received a boost when the Brazilian department store chain Havan, whose co-founder Luciano Hang is a vociferous supporter of the president, announced it would sponsor the tournament.
“I’m sure it will be a competition that will delight the entire Brazilian population”, he said.
This week Brazil’s supreme court rejected attempts to bar the country from hosting the Copa America.
The Brazilian Football Confederation and the South American Football Confederation did not respond to requests for comment.