The vibrant yellow jersey of Brazil represents unity and pride for the country’s love of football, but it has recently sparked controversy due to its adoption by right-wing supporters of President Jair Bolsonaro. These individuals often wear the shirt at protests and gatherings as a symbol of their political loyalty.
The iconic yellow jersey made a lasting impression on viewers around the world during the 1970 World Cup. It was worn by Pelé, who captivated audiences with his skills and was known for wearing the number 10 jersey. The yellow shirt has become synonymous with Brazil’s triumphs on the field and has been a symbol of positivity on a global scale for the past 50 years.
In 1970, the national team was caught up in political turmoil, particularly leading up to the World Cup in Mexico. The country was under military dictatorship, and General Medici, the president at the time, played a significant part in firing the coach, Joao Saldanha, despite his successful management during the qualifying rounds.
Looking ahead to 2020, detractors of Bolsonaro argue that the famous yellow jersey has now been tarnished by its strong connection to the leader of Brazil.
In 1985, Walter Casagrande, a retired soccer player for both the Brazilian national team and Corinthians club in São Paulo, reminisces about the exhilaration of scoring a goal while representing his country in his debut game with the “selecao.”
“It was a magical thing,” Casagrande told CNN Sport, “like an enchanted object that gave me huge emotion.”
Casagrande’s sentiments lie on the left side of the political chasm separating Bolsonaro’s supporters and opponents, and he feels an item he cherishes is being misrepresented.
“I now believe that the Brazilian yellow jersey has been taken hostage and claimed by the political right, making it unusable for us.”
According to Casagrande, the yellow shirt used to symbolize democracy and freedom for him.
The speaker expressed concern about how Brazil is currently being perceived by the rest of the world. They noted that it is the first instance in their lifetime where the country’s iconic yellow jersey is being associated with actions against democratic values and individual liberties.
In the 50 years since, Brazil’s 1970 World Cup-winning team has retained its title as the greatest in the country’s history.
“It does not concern politics.”
Bolsonaro’s critics are quick to point out his shortcomings, but his supporters are equally swift to defend him.
Brazilian fighter Cosmo Alexandre, who has won numerous world titles in Muay Thai and Kickboxing, argues that the left is mixing up their various concerns with Bolsonaro and using the jersey as another outlet to voice their grievances.
As a supporter of Bolsonaro, Alexandre dismisses allegations that the jersey’s symbolism is being exploited, and explains that the reason for wearing a yellow t-shirt is straightforward: everyone in Brazil owns one.
He notes that fans do not always sport the specific Brazilian team jersey at rallies, and many individuals can be seen wearing various versions of yellow t-shirts.
According to Alexandre, there exists a distinction between the athletic image and affiliations of a jersey and its political significance.
The Brazilian soccer team is well-known globally, so even if I wear their yellow shirt to a competition, it’s immediately recognized as representing Brazil,” the individual stated. “It’s not a political statement, but rather a recognition of Brazil’s reputation in the world of soccer.”
In a country where football is considered godly, it may be more challenging for some to separate the sport from politics.
Josemar de Rezende Jr., a supporter of football, helped establish a volunteer group for Bolsonaro in his town prior to the election. He expressed his satisfaction with Brazil’s successful reputation in the sport and sees the yellow jersey as a symbol of patriotism, determination, success, and pride.
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Campaign to promote white and blue kits.
However, the issue of the yellow jersey has caused such division that there is now a movement for Brazil to wear a white shirt.
Brazilian journalist, filmmaker, and author João Carlos Assumpção is advocating for the Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF) to ditch their yellow jersey and return to the traditional white and blue kit that was worn when the program was first established in 1914. Assumpção is known for his book “Gods of Soccer,” which delves into the political, sociological, and economic history of Brazil.
CNN contacted the CBF, who stated that they have decided not to provide a comment on this matter, citing its uniqueness as the reason.
Assumpção stated that in the past, Brazilian soccer was greatly admired due to our exceptional style of play. He believes that if we continue to perform well in the upcoming 2022 tournament while wearing the white shirt, fans will continue to support and purchase it. While it may be challenging to make a change, Assumpção remains optimistic that it is not impossible.
In 1950, Brazil experienced a loss at the World Cup while wearing a white and blue jersey, leading to the belief that it was unlucky. As a result, they made a change to a yellow jersey which brought them success, winning five World Cups while wearing it. This record remains unbroken, even today.
Assumpção’s goal in altering the kit’s color is to convey to the world that Brazilians desire change in their country. However, he specified that this change does not align with the actions of the current government.
From a different political viewpoint, the color yellow, symbolized by the yellow jersey, signifies progress and improvement in the nation. According to Rezende Jr., a supporter of Bolsonaro, the left’s attempt to claim the yellow jersey is an attempt to misrepresent the government. He believes that the government is patriotic and receives support from all social classes in the country.
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Fans of opposing football teams come together.
The political unrest in the nation reflects the intensity of rivalries between city football teams throughout Brazil. However, this conflict goes beyond city limits and has actually united fans in recent months.
São Paulo is home to four main clubs: Corinthians, Palmeiras, São Paolo, and Santos. The rivalry between Corinthians and Palmeiras is especially intense, and in June groups from each club joined together in the streets to counter-protest Bolsonaro’s supporters.
According to sociologist Rafael Castilho, who is a member of the Collective Corinthian Democracy and serves as the Coordinator of the Corinthians Study Center, Brazil must come together and embrace conflicting perspectives in order to overcome its current political crisis.
According to Castilho, rival clubs feel a civic duty to unite with civil society movements in light of the current political and social climate where party representation is lacking and social movements are facing suppression by law enforcement. He also noted that the bravery of fans has garnered support from a portion of society who feel represented by their actions.
During the period of the pro-democracy movement known as Diretas Já in the 1980s, the Corinthians were known for their involvement in both football and politics. The team was notably captained by national team players Socrates and Casagrande.
The worlds of football and politics collided in 1982 when a team wore jerseys during a game with the message “VOTE on 15th,” in an attempt to encourage their supporters to participate in the São Paulo state government election.
After two years, the Corinthians became the focal point of a movement known as Democracia Corintiana. According to Casagrande, this movement saw over one million people take to the streets wearing yellow.
Casagrande stated that the yellow jersey played a central role in the significant moment for Brazilian democracy.
In 2013, during protests against former President Dilma Roussef and corruption, the yellow jersey reappeared in the streets. This was a year before the World Cup was scheduled to be held in Brazil, and while conservative protesters donned shirts in the country’s colors, leftist protesters opted for different hues.
Both Alexandre and Rezende Jr. suggest that the color yellow is a positive change from the red t-shirts worn by government supporters during the time of left-wing rule, hinting at an underlying endorsement of communism.
Alexandre stated that when Bolsonaro began his campaign, his followers used the color yellow as a symbol to express their identity as Brazilians and their opposition to communism in their country.
The battle for the coveted yellow jersey sparks a desire to relive past victories for some, while others strive to redefine its significance. In a nation with a strong football culture, this topic is not likely to fade away.
Assumpção believes that the football community and non-far right Brazilians may only be able to reclaim the jersey in five or ten years, rather than at present.