Conmebol pushes on with Copa Libertadores despite domestic leagues frozen amid Covid fears

September 15 – The Copa Libertadores resumes on Tuesday with Colo Colo taking on Penarol and Jorge Wilstermann playing Athletico Paranaense in Group C in an elaborate exercise that will test Conmebol, the clubs and the players with three out of the continent’s ten domestic leagues still on hold.  

South America’s premier club competition shut down in March due to the coronavirus pandemic, at the same time as the Champions League, its European equivalent. UEFA succeeded in bringing its flagship competition to a timely and orderly conclusion with a final eight in August in Lisbon but, now that South America is about to resume its main continental competition, there are still plenty of concerns over the coronavirus that is raging across the region.

Conmebol faced a logistical nightmare to organise the competition’s resumption. It negotiated with national governments to open borders and presented a protocol that demands teams to limit their time in a foreign nations to 72 hours. The governing body is chartering flights for the clubs to further reduce the risk of contagion.

The matches will be played behind closed doors, but even in a bio-secure bubble risks will remain. The World Health Organisation says that more than half of all recorded coronavirus cases are in the Americas. Teams flying around will not help to contain the virus, but both Conmebol and the clubs are desperate for the Copa Libertadores to restart: the confederation wants to avoid TV rebates and the clubs need the revenue the competition generates, even when it is played in front of empty stands.

However, the Copa Libertadores will restart with an uneven playing field, at least in terms of fitness levels.

Brazil’s domestic competition resumed in June, but Colombia’s league only got underway this weekend.  In Argentina, football hasn’t returned yet. In the lead-up to their game with Paraguay’s Libertad, 22 players of Buenos Aires giants Boca Juniors tested positive, derailing their preparations for the match. Libertad have protested the decision to allow positive “non-contagious” players to travel with Boca Juniors.

Conmebol has allowed clubs to register up to 40 players, instead of just 30, to address positive cases in a team.

The competition’s final was due to take place at Rio de Janeiro’s Maracana in November, but the date and venue of the final are both under review.

Contact the writer of this story, Samindra Kunti, at moc.l1624414187labto1624414187ofdlr1624414187owedi1624414187sni@o1624414187fni1624414187