World Cup gives Brazil fans chance to reclaim yellow jersey from far right | World Cup 2022

Football, once Brazil’s great unifier, has in recent years fallen victim to the country’s polarised politics. The yellow and green football shirt, emblematic of a national team that has won a record five World Cups, is now shunned by many Brazilians who associate it with the outgoing far-right president Jair Bolsonaro and his authoritarian brand of nationalism.

“I used to feel proud of wearing the Brazilian football shirt. Not any more. Now I feel dread,” said Regina Valadares, a copywriter from the southern city of Florianópolis. The shirt evokes “shame” and “disgust” for the 43-year-old as “it represents everything bad about this government.”

Now however, Brazilians distressed by such associations hope that the World Cup, coming hard on the heels of Bolsonaro’s electoral defeat to Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva last month, will provide an opportunity to reclaim the colours and reconcile the country with the amarelinha, as the world-famous shirt is affectionately known.

“There is a struggle over the shirt, which fits into a bigger struggle, a fight for Brazil and its national symbols,” said Luiz Antonio Simas, a historian and author of a book about Rio de Janeiro’s Maracanã stadium.

Left-leaning pop stars and politicians wore the canary yellow shirt during the election campaign in an attempt to recover it from the far right. More recently, the Brazilian Football Association (CBF) launched a campaign that seeks to depoliticise the football jersey.

Amauri Bevilacqua, 29, said he will wear the amarelinha when Brazil plays in the World Cup. To do otherwise would be “to let the other side take possession of a symbol that has always united all Brazilians, which is football”. But the Rio-based environmental engineer does not yet feel comfortable wearing the shirt outside of match days, for fear of being mistaken for a Bolsonaro supporter.

The broad appropriation of Brazil’s national colours by the right began in 2015 during protests against the government of Lula’s ally Dilma Rousseff, and have since become symbols of bolsonarismo.

Bolsonaro surrounded by men in yellow football shirts
The colours’ political overtones have been reinforced by Bolsonaro supporters who reject the election results. Photograph: Buda Mendes/Getty Images

More recently, the colours’ political overtones have been reinforced by radical Bolsonaro supporters who reject the election results and have blocked roads and camped outside army headquarters demanding a military intervention.

To avoid confusion progressive Brazilians are embracing alternative versions of the amarelinha such as those sold by Thainá Pinho, a 27-year-old business graduate from Rio’s working-class suburbs. Her line of yellow and green T-shirts, modelled on the retro version of the football jersey first worn by the Seleção in 1954, features progressive symbols like the red star of Lula’s Workers’ party or the LGBTQ+ flag.

“I hope that during the World Cup, everyone unites and wears the shirt, whether with a red star or not,” said Pinho, who sees her Revolta Canária brand as part of a movement of resistance against the far right’s appropriation of Brazil’s national symbols.

Lula himself has urged Brazilians to embrace the tarnished colours. “We do not need to feel ashamed of wearing the green and yellow shirt. The shirt does not belong to a political party, it belongs to the Brazilian people,” the president-elect recently tweeted, adding that during the World Cup he would wear a yellow shirt emblazoned with the number 13 – his Workers’ party’s electoral number.

But this process of reappropriating Brazil’s national symbols from the far right will not happen overnight, warned Simas. “Even with Bolsonaro’s defeat, lots of people who do not identify with this bolsonarista far right do not feel comfortable using the national team’s shirt again,” he said, adding that he was leaning towards wearing Brazil’s blue away shirt during the World Cup games.

Football-mad Bevilacqua clings on to a more optimistic view. He hopes Brazil will win its sixth World Cup and that a sporting victory might go some way towards healing the country’s divisions.

Brazil is the bookies’ favourite to win this year’s tournament, a title it last secured in 2002 – the year Lula won his first presidential election. “It’s a good sign,” said Bevilacqua. “Maybe 20 years later, history will repeat itself.”

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