A final decision as to whether Argentina will host the Copa América football tournament, which is due to kick off in just two weeks time, is expected to be reached before Monday.
The government is currently waiting to hear back from CONMEBOL, South American football's governing body, if they will agree to follow strict coronavirus health protocols during the tournament. With the Copa set to kick off in Buenos Aires on June 13, there is little time to lose.
"We need to know if CONMEBOL is able to comply with the requirement that we're putting in place," Cabinet Chief Santiago Cafiero told Radio 10 on Wednesday.
Opposition to the hosting of the tournament is building, with Argentina currently in the grip of a brutal Covid-19 second wave, with the Health Ministry posting daily tallies of close to 40,000 infections and 500 deaths.
A new poll from Pollarquía published Thursday showed that seven out of ten of those quizzed thought the tournament should not be hosted, across all political lines.
On Friday, Buenos Aires Province Health Minister Daniel Gollán said the issue was "complex," adding that a decision would have to be made "day by day."
"You have to deal with everything and football comes into that," he warned.
Outlets in Argentina reported Friday that CONMEBOL had received a proposal from the United States regarding hosting, submitted by its top-flight league MLS. However, one "senior CONMEBOL source" told the TN news channel that the US proposal was "not viable," for "organisational reasons."
Chile is thought to be a more likely replacement if necessary, whether hosting a handful of games to help out or the entire tournament.
Argentina submitted its "strict protocol" to CONMEBOL on Wednesday during a meeting between President Alberto Fernández and the football governing body's head Alejandro Domínguez.
The country offered to host the entire tournament after CONMEBOL stripped Colombia of co-hosting rights after it asked to have the tournament delayed until the end of the year as it struggles with the pandemic and social unrest.
Following that decision, CONMEBOL said "the organisational and logistical aspects were evaluated – with the eventual authorisation of additional sites – and everything concerning the health protocols."
One of Argentina's demands is a reduction in the size of each team's delegation.
CONMEBOL's 10 member federations will take part in the Copa América, with the final due on July 10 at a location yet to be decided.
“CONMEBOL were quite surprised with the demands we were making. In fact, they made comments to us that not even the European Championships has protocols with these characteristics," said Cafiero. “They are so strict that Conmebol took them away to analyse and to see if they could comply."
"I understand that they have to talk to all the delegations to see if they can comply with the protocols Argentina is demanding," said Cafiero.
Shortly before that, Health Minister Carla Vizzotti insisted that welcoming 1,000 to 1,200 people from all over the continent with strict health protocols would not be "epidemiologically very relevant."
In recent days, CONMEBOL has been inspecting stadiums to see if they could host the 15 matches originally scheduled for Colombia.
Players already arriving
European-based players, such as Albiceleste superstar Lionel Messi have already returned home ahead of World Cup qualifiers just before the Copa begins.
Messi is hoping to help Argentina overcome a trophy drought that stretches back to 1993, when they last won the Copa. It will be "a special Copa, [though] a different one because there won't be fans," he said recently.
The pandemic has been acutely felt in local football. The 2021 Copa de la Liga Profesional semi-finals, due to be played last weekend, were postponed until May 31 but earlier this week the government made an exception to allow its teams to take part in Copa Libertadores and Sudamericana matches.
Last week, River Plate were forced to play a Copa Libertadores match against Colombians Independiente Santa Fe with midfielder Enzo Pérez in goal after the virus infected 20 players, including all four goalkeepers. Despite only having 11 fit players, the Millo still won the match 2-1.
Argentina has recorded more than 76,000 deaths from Covid-19 and 3.6 million cases among its 45 million population.