As Brazil begins World Cup play on Thursday favored to win a record sixth title, it would normally be a moment of joyous anticipation in Latin America’s largest country, tempered by lingering divisions following last month’s ugly presidential election. The variety is bursting at the seams canarinhothe once sacred “little canary” shirt chosen before, during and after the vote by supporters of “Tropical Trump” campaign clothing — election loser Jair Bolsonaro.
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The camps set up across the country by supporters of the outgoing president to protest the election victory of Luis Inacio Lula da Silva are seas of yellow and green. For many Brazilians, the adoption of colors after The Bolsonarians tarnishes the shirt made famous by generations of graceful greats of the beautiful game, from Pele to Ronaldinho.
“I have a yellow jersey. I used to wear it,” Monteiro said, “but, people, it’s very difficult [now]. The way they appropriated the shirt. It is uncomfortable to wear. It has become a symbol of Brazil’s far right.
Bolsonaro has drawn criticism for his dismissal of the coronavirus pandemic, support for commercial development of the Amazon rainforest, and insults against women, minorities and the LGBTQ community. On October 30, he narrowly lost the second and final round of the election; supporters have flocked to military bases to complain of voter fraud without evidence.
For a continent-sized, football-mad country that would normally share a collective dream of hex — a historic sixth title — applying to the world championship raises a deeply personal question. Will the team’s run serve as a time of national healing this year? Or will it crystallize how an era of toxic politics—overheated personal attacks, voter violence, baseless allegations of stolen elections—can leave lasting scars on a nation?
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The national team, usually a beacon of national pride, is already a microcosm of the country’s polarized politics. A number of players have at least tacitly supported Bolsonaro, with the most visible support coming from the biggest star: Neymar. The celebrity striker posted a TikTok video of himself singing the campaign tune and joined the current contestant live. He promised to dedicate a goal in the world championship to the president.
On the other hand, national team coach Tite has publicly complained about injecting politics into the team’s affairs. If Brazil, the winningest nation in World Cup history, takes the crown again, he has vowed to break with tradition since the 1950s by refusing to join any team visit to the capital to meet the current president, whether Bolsonaro in December or Lula. in January.
Asked about the public tug-of-war over the country’s soccer jersey last month, he told O Globo newspaper that he did not want to participate in an ideological war: “I tell them, ‘This fight remains for you.’
The current national mood is a stark contrast to the electrifying carnival that swept the country in 2002, when Brazilians cheered as one as their team roared to a record fifth World Cup title. After the vote, which Bolsonaro’s supporters claim was stolen without evidence, some have called for boycotts of left-wing businesses. Some Bolsonarians have suggested that progressives decorate their businesses with the red star of Lula’s Workers’ Party so that shoppers can identify their political loyalties, an idea that some on the left say harkens back to the yellow stars of David painted on Jewish businesses during the Jewish boom. Nazi Party in Germany.
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A cafe owner in the Brazilian city of Goiânia said her business had been added to one of the boycott lists. The woman, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution, said her clients are more progressive, which limits the financial damage. But she has come to fear as Bolsonaro supporters have turned against her online, reposting her political views with private family photos taken from her Instagram account and posting negative reviews of her cafe on Google.
“Maybe these attacks have worked,” she said, “because I thought I wouldn’t talk about politics as much anymore.”
Yellow and green shirts are ubiquitous among thousands of Bolsonaro supporters protesting the election results in the center of Brazil’s southeastern military command in Sao Paulo, one of several protests since election night. Some demonstrators have called for military intervention to keep Bolsonaro in office. Vendors in the crowd sold popcorn in green and yellow paper bags with the logo of the World Cup in Qatar.
Luiz Claudio Pereira, a retired small business worker, was one of many who donned the national jersey outside a Sao Paulo military base last week. A Bolsonaro supporter said it was more a symbol of nationalism than sport. “For me, this shirt represents Brazil, not the national team.”
He said Lula’s supporters shun the shirt because of a lack of national pride.
“I think it’s a lack of patriotism,” he said. “That’s why they don’t want to wear it. I don’t think it’s a symbol of Bolsonaro.
Nike, which makes the official shirt, did not respond to a request for sales figures. Reports in the Brazilian press suggest that domestic sales will increase ahead of Brazil’s elections, fueled in part by Bolsonaro’s supporters. But Brazil’s alternate shirt, a deep shade of blue, has also gained popularity, particularly among those disturbed by the yellow and green shirt’s association with the political right.
“The divisions in Brazilian society are here to stay. It’s not going to go away because of the World Cup,” said Marcos Nobre, a political analyst and author. “There’s also a left-wing fight for the progressives to take back the national jersey. Maybe it will work, but people will see after all this.” national shirt as different.
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In a nation where poor kids dream of breaking out of the favelas for soccer talent, and where religious shrines are dedicated to the sport, the yellow-green shirt has a surprisingly rich political history. It was born of a humiliating defeat — Brazil’s 1950 World Cup loss to tiny neighbor Uruguay — and unabashed patriotism. In the 1953 competition to replace the then mostly white uniform, there was one requirement: to use the yellow, green, blue and white colors of the Brazilian flag.
The winner, designed by 19-year-old newspaper illustrator Aldir Schle, was a shirt with a yellow square – hence the canarinho, or little canary – lined with Kelly green trim and worn with blue shorts and white socks. Years later, Schle would be imprisoned for writings that opposed the military dictatorship that ruled the country from 1964 to 1985.
In 1970, when the dictatorship won the World Cup as a domestic propaganda target and appointed a brigadier general as head of its tournament delegation, many left-wing Brazilians shunned the shirt and vowed not to support the team. Some, including future president Dilma Rousseff, then in prison as a dissident, have described Brazil as cheering anyway.
Polarization around the shirt faded during the democratic era, but began in 2013 when protesters against Rousseff’s leftist government seized the symbol. Over the past four years, the shirt, with the president’s encouragement, has become a staunch Bolsonaro trademark.
Bolsonaro asked his supporters to wear it on election day.
“More and more Brazil is being painted green and yellow,” he said in an August podcast. “It’s not about the cup; it is because of patriotism. Part of it because of me? Yes.”
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Some on the Brazilian left are trying to reclaim the shirt. Some, including Lula’s wife, post selfies in a T-shirt and make an L sign with their hands for the president-elect. Some wear versions with a red star, the symbol of Lula’s Workers’ Party, or the number 13, the party’s designation on ballot papers.
Others say it’s too late.
“The yellow shirt is on the street calling for military intervention, calling for a coup d’état, calling for a return to dictatorship,” writer Millie Lacombe said on a podcast last week. “Maybe I’m wrong, but I think the yellow jersey is irreversible. I don’t see how we can get this shirt back.
Lula said earlier this month that he would be proud to wear the shirt during the World Cup.
“We should not be ashamed to wear our green and yellow jersey,” he said. “Green and yellow do not belong to the candidate. It does not belong to any party. Green and yellow are the colors of the 213 million people who love this country.
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Some here hope the World Cup can begin to heal the divided nation.
One of the country’s most famous sports journalists, Juca Kfori, said that even the left will forgive Neymar if he takes off in the coming days. “If he has an outstanding cup, people will come back. Even for those who don’t like him very much, he will be their idol.
With Lula’s victory, Kfori said the “climate of hatred” had begun to fade.
“I think the World Cup will have the character of people going out into the streets together and not asking who they voted for,” he said. “Maybe the percentage of blue shirts will be higher than yellow. Maybe there will still be people who don’t like to wear the yellow shirt. But people who don’t like blue will wear yellow anyway. Because it’s the color of Brazil.