(Adds details of Mastercard sponsorship, player statement, pandemic in Brazil)
By Carolina Mandl
SAO PAULO, June 9 (Reuters) - Mastercard Inc has decided to temporarily remove its branding from the Copa America amid criticism over a last-minute decision to host the soccer tournament in Brazil, which is struggling with one of the world's worst COVID-19 outbreaks.
In a statement to Reuters on Wednesday, Mastercard said it has decided not to "activate" its sponsorship of Copa America in Brazil after a thorough analysis. The payments company remains a sponsor of the tournament, as it has been since 1992.
Last week organizers of the Copa America, which kicks off on Sunday, unexpectedly relocated the tournament to Brazil after co-hosts Colombia were dropped due to civil unrest and Argentina withdrew following a surge in COVID-19 cases.
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 Brazilian footballers questioned the wisdom of hosting the tournament with a pandemic raging.
More than 475,000 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 rumours of a potential boycott. (Reporting by Carolina Mandl; Editing by Brad Haynes and Emelia Sithole-Matarise)