Soccer finalists in Brazil flouting virus rules

SAO PAULO (AP) — Both teams in the Sao Paulo state league final this week are accused of wilfully ignoring health recommendations to stop the coronavirus.

Defending Sao Paulo state champion Corinthians refused on Monday to be tested again, while archrival Palmeiras was criticized for releasing players and staffers to go home after matches.

The first leg of the state final is on Wednesday, and the second on Saturday. The COVID-19 protocols of the Sao Paulo soccer body are the same ones being applied to the Brazilian championship starting next weekend.

Corinthians said in a statement that its refusal was in line with the health protocols of Sao Paulo state’s soccer body. It added its players and staffers have been in isolation at the club training ground for 14 days, since the restart of the tournament after a four-month break.

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The club also said it was behaving “differently from Palmeiras, who did not comply (with health protocols) and released its athletes after every match, which was never allowed.”

Palmeiras did not respond, but players said in recent interviews they have taken COVID-19 tests after returning from home.

Corinthians president Andres Sanchez said Sao Paulo state officials did not ask the club to do a new round of testing. “You know why? Because we followed all the protocols. Talk to those that did not,” he wrote on Twitter.

Later, Sao Paulo’s soccer body said Corinthians was excused from COVID-19 testing before the first leg of the final, but Palmeiras was not. Both teams will have all of their players and staffers tested again on Thursday.

“Palmeiras chose not to keep the athletes in isolation after the match against Ponte Preta (on Sunday). So, following the same protocol, the squad will have to be tested before the following match,” Sao Paulo officials said in a statement.

Fans of both clubs criticized their behavior on social media.

Corinthians players and staffers were tested twice, the latest round on Thursday after beating Red Bull Bragantino 2-0 in the quarterfinals. On Sunday, it beat Mirassol 1-0 in the semifinals.

The protocols also became an issue last Friday, when Hospital Albert Einstein admitted 26 samples from players of Red Bull Bragantino were false positives. New tests were taken on the day of the quarterfinal against Corinthians last Thursday, and all team members were cleared to play.

Brazil is one of the world’s virus hotspots, recording more than 94,000 deaths and 2.7 million cases. About one fifth of those are in Sao Paulo state, the country’s most populous with 46 million residents.

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