Brazil: World Cup Qualifier Halted Mid-Match over Alleged Virus Breach

SAO PAULO, BRAZIL - SEPTEMBER 05: Health authorities argue with Head coach of Argentina Lionel Scaloni (C) and players of Brazil and Argentina during a match between Brazil and Argentina as part of South American Qualifiers for Qatar 2022 at Arena Corinthians on September 05, 2021 in Sao Paulo, Brazil. …
Alexandre Schneider/Getty Images

Brazilian health officials on Sunday halted a World Cup qualifying soccer match in Sao Paulo between Brazil and Argentina minutes after it started, accusing four Argentine players of violating Brazil’s Chinese coronavirus quarantine rules, Reuters reported Tuesday.

Officials from Brazil’s National Health Surveillance Agency (Anvisa) walked onto the soccer field at Neo Quimica Arena on September 5 and stopped the Brazil-Argentina match just five minutes after kickoff. Anvisa accused four players on Argentina’s team — Emiliano Martinez, Cristian Romero, Giovani Lo Celso, and Emiliano Buendia — of lying about their recent travel itinerary and subsequently causing “a serious health risk” at the game.

In a statement released on September 5, Anvisa further explained its extraordinary decision to call off Sunday’s World Cup qualifying match after it had already begun.

“After a meeting with the health authorities, it was decided that, after checking the passports of the four players involved, the players did not comply with the rules of entry into Brazilian soil,” the statement read.

“Travellers who have been in the UK, South Africa, Northern Ireland, and India are not allowed in Brazil,” Anvisa noted, referring to current Chinese coronavirus travel restrictions.

“The players in question declared not to have passed through any of the countries with restrictions in the past 14 days. They arrived in Brazil via a flight from Caracas in Venezuela, destined for Garulhos,” according to the statement.

“However, unofficial news reached Anvisa reporting allegedly false statements made by the travelers,” Brazil’s government health regulator claimed.

Brazil’s Federal Police said on September 6 it had “opened a formal inquiry into the actions of the Argentine players.”

“We can confirm an investigation has begun into the possible crime of supplying false information,” a spokesperson for the national police force said.

Brazil’s Federal Police further confirmed on Monday that the four Argentine players in question were deported to Argentina on the evening of September 5.

“Yesterday, the players were notified they must leave the country, which is the regular procedure, and statements from them were taken,” the force said.

The president of FIFA, the international governing body of association soccer, dismissed Anvisa’s decision to stop Sunday’s match minutes after kickoff as “crazy” in a statement on Monday.

Argentina's football team bus leaves the Neo Quimica Arena, also known as Corinthians Arena, after the suspension of their South American qualification football match for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 against Brazil, in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on September 5, 2021. - Brazil's World Cup qualifying clash between Brazil and Argentina was halted shortly after kick-off on Sunday as controversy over Covid-19 protocols erupted. (Photo by NELSON ALMEIDA / AFP) (Photo by NELSON ALMEIDA/AFP via Getty Images)

Argentina’s football team bus leaves the Neo Quimica Arena, also known as Corinthians Arena, after the suspension of their South American qualification football match for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 against Brazil, in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on September 5, 2021. – Brazil’s World Cup qualifying clash between Brazil and Argentina was halted shortly after kick-off on Sunday as controversy over Covid-19 protocols erupted. (Photo by NELSON ALMEIDA/AFP via Getty Images)

“We saw what happened with the game between Brazil and Argentina, two of South America’s most glorious teams,” FIFA president Gianni Infantino said in a video address to the European Club Association’s general assembly.

“Some officials, police, security officials entered the pitch after a few minutes of the game to take away some players — it is crazy but we need to deal with these challenges, these issues which come on top of the COVID [Chinese coronavirus] crisis,” he told the soccer association.

Brazilian Football Confederation president Ednaldo Rodrigues told Brazil’s SporTV news site he believed Anvisa should have addressed the alleged quarantine violation at a different time.

“I feel sorry for all the sports fans who wanted to watch the game on television,” Rodrigues said. “With all due respect to Anvisa, they could have resolved this earlier and not waited for the game to start.”

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