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South American soccer players will be given the Chinese Sinovac COVID-19 vaccine ahead of the Copa America that starts in June, regional governing body chief Alejandro Dominguez said on Tuesday.

Sinovac will donate 50,000 vaccine doses to CONMEBOL, South American soccer’s governing body, ahead of the June-July showpiece to be given to the men’s and women’s squads taking part in top-level competitions.

“It’s the best gift the South American footballing family could receive,” said Dominguez in a statement on the CONMEBOL website.

The Copa America, like the European Championship, was due to take place last year but was postponed by 12 months due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Australia and Qatar had been invited to take part as guests but both pulled out due to the virus, leaving just the 10 CONMEBOL member federations.

The vaccinations will be completed before the tournament, co-hosted by Argentina and Colombia, starts on June 13, CONMEBOL sources told AFP.

Sinovac, which produces the CoronaVac jab, “understands that football is an essential activity for the economy, culture, and physical and mental health of South Americans,” said Dominguez.

The CONMEBOL chief thanked Uruguay President Luis Lacalle Pou for helping to secure “this achievement that is unprecedented in world football.”

Dominguez said the exact details of the immunization effort would be ironed out in consultations with national associations.

“It’s a huge step forwards to beat the pandemic, which in no way means we will let our guard down,” he added.

Brazil is the reigning champion having triumphed on home soil in 2019, while Uruguay holds the record with 15 continental titles.

CONMEBOL postponed two rounds of World Cup qualifiers last month because some major European clubs — where most top South American stars play — threatened not to release their players due to quarantine restrictions for people entering their countries.

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