fFootball, once Brazil’s great club, has fallen victim to the country’s polarized politics in recent years. The yellow and green soccer jersey, the symbol of a national team that has won five world titles, is now shunned by many Brazilians who associate it with outgoing far-right President Jair Bolsonaro and his authoritarian nationalism.
“I used to be proud to wear the Brazilian football shirt. No longer. Now I’m scared,” said Regina Valadares, a copywriter from the southern city of Florianópolis. The jersey evokes “shame” and “disgust” for the 43-year-old because “it represents everything bad about this government”.
Now the Brazilians, troubled by such associations, are hoping the World Cup, which follows hard on the heels of Bolsonaro’s electoral loss to Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva last month, will provide an opportunity to retake the colors and tie the country with the US reconcile amarelinhaas the world-famous shirt is affectionately called.
“There is a fight for the jersey that fits into a larger fight, a fight for Brazil and its national symbols,” said Luiz Antonio Simas, historian and author of a book on Rio de Janeiro’s Maracanã Stadium.
Left-wing pop stars and politicians wore the canary yellow shirt during the election campaign to recapture it from the extreme right. Recently, the Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF) launched a campaign aimed at depoliticizing the football shirt.
Amauri Bevilacqua, 29, said he will wear this amarelinha when Brazil plays at the World Cup. To act differently would mean “allowing the other side to take possession of a symbol that has always united all Brazilians, namely football”. But the Rio-based environmental engineer is not yet comfortable wearing the shirt off matchdays for fear of being mistaken for a Bolsonaro supporter.
Widespread right-wing appropriation of Brazil’s national colors began in 2015 during protests against the government of Lula’s ally Dilma Rousseff and has since become symbols Bolsonarianism.
More recently, the political overtones of the colors have been amplified by radical Bolsonaro supporters who have rejected the election results and who have blocked streets and encamped outside army headquarters to call for military intervention.
To avoid confusion, progressive Brazilians welcome alternative versions of the amarelinha like that of Thainá Pinho, a 27-year-old business economist from Rio’s working-class suburbs. Their line of yellow and green t-shirts, modeled after the retro version of the soccer jersey first worn by the Seleção from 1954 with progressive symbols like the red star of Lula’s Labor Party or the LGBTQ+ flag.
“I hope that during the World Cup everyone will band together and wear the jersey, with or without the red star,” said Pinho, who sees her Revolta Canária brand as part of a resistance movement against the far-right appropriation of Brazil’s national symbols.
Lula himself has asked the Brazilians to accept the tarnished colours. “We don’t have to be ashamed of wearing the green and yellow jersey. The jersey does not belong to any political party, it belongs to the Brazilian people,” said the newly elected president tweetedand added that during the World Cup he would be wearing a yellow shirt with the number 13 – his Labor Party’s voting number.
But this process of re-appropriating Brazil’s national symbols from the far right will not happen overnight, Simas warned. “A lot of people don’t identify with Bolsonaro’s defeat either bolsonarista Far-right don’t feel comfortable wearing national team kit again,” he said, adding that he tends to wear Brazil’s blue away kit during World Cup matches.
Football-mad Bevilacqua maintains a more optimistic view. He hopes Brazil will win their sixth World Cup and that a sporting victory could help heal the country’s divisions.
Brazil are bookmakers’ favorites to win this year’s tournament, a title they last clinched in 2002 – the year Lula won his first presidential election. “That’s a good sign,” Bevilacqua said. “Maybe 20 years later, history is repeating itself.”