SAO PAULO (Reuters) - Alcoholic beverage company Diageo Plc on Thursday joined other major sponsors pulling out of the Copa America after players criticized organizers for moving the soccer tournament to Brazil despite one of the world's worst COVID-19 outbreaks.
The spirits makers said it was withdrawing its brand names as sponsors of the 10-nation South American tournament "before the current Brazilian health situation and out of respect for this moment of the COVID-19 pandemic".
Mastercard Inc and drinks company Ambev backed away from the Copa America on Wednesday.
Diageo Brasil said in a statement the sponsorship had been agreed for the event when it was to be co-hosted by Colombia and Argentina.
Last week, the South American Football Confederation unexpectedly relocated the tournament, which starts on Sunday, after Colombia was dropped because of civil unrest and Argentina withdrew after a surge in coronavirus infections.
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who has played down the severity of the coronavirus and fought against lockdowns, threw his support behind the move. But public health experts, Supreme Court justices and footballers questioned the wisdom of hosting the tournament with a pandemic raging.
More than 479,000 Brazilians have died from COVID-19, the world's worst official death toll outside the United States, and experts warn of a third wave approaching along with winter in the southern hemisphere.
The Brazilian soccer team cited "humanitarian" concerns in a statement criticizing the organization of the Copa America on Wednesday, but they committed to participating in the tournament after rumors of a potential boycott.
Mastercard Inc said it decided not to "activate" its sponsorship of Copa America in Brazil, meaning it will temporarily remove its branding from the event it has sponsored since 1992.
Ambev SA, a unit of brewer AB InBev sponsoring both the tournament and the Brazilian national team, said "its brands will not be present at the Copa America."
(Reporting by Alberto Alerigi and Anthony Boadle, editing by Ed Osmond)