The bright yellow jersey of Brazil serves as a unifying symbol for the country, representing a shared passion for football and national pride. However, recent controversy has arisen as right wing supporters of Jair Bolsonaro have adopted the shirt, wearing it at protests and rallies to demonstrate their political loyalty to the Brazilian president.
The iconic yellow jersey became ingrained in the minds of people around the world during the 1970 World Cup. It was inspired by the mesmerizing displays of Pelé, who wore the number 10 jersey, and has been a symbol of Brazil’s triumph on the soccer field for the last 50 years, creating a favorable reputation globally.
The 1970 national team was involved in political conflict, particularly before the World Cup in Mexico. General Medici, the leader of a country ruled by a military dictatorship, played a significant role in the dismissal of coach Joao Saldanha, who had successfully guided the team through qualifying.
In the year 2020, opponents of Bolsonaro argue that the symbolic yellow jersey has been negatively affected by its strong connection to the Brazilian leader.
In 1985, Walter Casagrande, a retired soccer player for both the Brazilian national team and São Paulo’s Corinthians club, reflects on the excitement of scoring a goal while donning the iconic yellow jersey during his debut match with the “selecao.”
“It was a truly enchanting experience,” Casagrande shared with CNN Sport. “It felt like a magical object that gave me overwhelming emotions.”
Casagrande holds left-leaning views in regards to the political divide between supporters and opponents of Bolsonaro. He believes that a cherished item of his is being misrepresented.
I believe that the Brazilian yellow jersey has been taken and claimed by the political right, so it is no longer available for use.
According to Casagrande, the significance of the yellow shirt was its embodiment of democracy and liberty.
The speaker expressed concern about Brazil’s current global image, stating that they have never seen the country’s yellow jersey being used to oppose democracy and freedom before.
After 50 years, the 1970 World Cup-winning team is still considered Brazil’s greatest ever.
“It does not pertain to politics.”
Although Bolsonaro’s critics are quick to voice their disapproval, his supporters are equally quick to defend him.
According to Cosmo Alexandre, a Brazilian fighter with numerous world titles in Muay Thai and Kickboxing, the left is combining their various concerns with Bolsonaro and using the jersey as a means to express their grievances.
As a supporter of Bolsonaro, Alexandre disregards claims that the jersey’s symbolism is being exploited. He states that the reason for wearing a yellow t-shirt as a sign of support is straightforward: yellow t-shirts are a common item in Brazil.
He highlights that fans do not always sport the Brazilian team’s jersey exclusively, and gatherings are filled with individuals wearing various types of yellow t-shirts.
According to Alexandre, there is a distinction between the athletic image and affiliations of a jersey and its political symbolism.
The Brazilian soccer team is well-known all over the world, so wearing their yellow team shirt in any situation would easily identify me as a member of the team. This is not a statement about politics, but rather a reflection of how globally recognized Brazil is for its soccer.
In a country where football is revered as a deity, it may be more challenging for some to separate it from politics.
Josemar de Rezende Jr. is a soccer enthusiast who helped establish a Bolsonaro volunteer organization in his local community prior to the election. He expressed pride in the international recognition of the Brazilian team for their success and believes that the yellow jersey symbolizes patriotism, leadership, success, and pride.
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Campaign for white and blue kit
However, the topic of the yellow jersey has caused such division that there is now a movement for Brazil to wear a white shirt instead.
João Carlos Assumpção, a journalist, filmmaker, and author from Brazil, is spearheading a movement urging the Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF) to ditch the yellow jersey and revert to the traditional white and blue uniform worn when the program was first established in 1914.
CNN contacted the CBF, who stated they have decided to refrain from commenting on this topic because it is a highly unusual situation.
Assumpção stated that in the past, Brazilian soccer was adored for its exceptional performance. He believes that if the team continues to excel in the 2022 World Cup while wearing their traditional white jerseys, fans will continue to purchase them. While it may be a challenge, Assumpção believes it is not out of reach to maintain this tradition.
In 1950, Brazil’s white and blue jersey was considered unlucky after their loss to Uruguay in the World Cup on their home turf. As a result, they changed to a yellow jersey and have since won five World Cups while wearing it. This impressive record still remains unbeaten today.
Assumpção’s goal in altering the kit’s color is to send a message to the world that Brazilians desire change in their country. He clarified that this is not the type of change that the current government is implementing.
From a different political viewpoint, the color yellow – symbolized by the yellow jersey – signifies progress and improvement in the nation. Rezende Jr., a follower of Bolsonaro, believes that the left’s attempt to claim the yellow jersey is a deliberate attempt to distort the image of the government. He describes the current administration as a patriotic one, with support from all social classes across the country.
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Opposing football supporters come together.
The current political instability in the nation is reminiscent of the intense competition between rival football teams in cities throughout Brazil. However, this conflict extends beyond city borders and has actually united fans in recent months.
The city of Sao Paulo has four major clubs: Corinthians, Palmeiras, Sao Paolo, and Santos. The competition between Corinthians and Palmeiras is particularly fierce, and in June, members from both clubs gathered in the streets to oppose Bolsonaro’s followers.
According to sociologist Rafael Castilho, who is a member of the Collective Corinthian Democracy and the Coordinator of the Corinthians Study Center, Brazil must come together and embrace conflicting viewpoints in order to overcome its current political situation.
According to Castilho, rival clubs have a civic duty to support each other and participate in civil society movements, especially during times of political turmoil and suppression of social movements by law enforcement. He also notes that the actions of fans have garnered support from society, as they embody courage that resonates with certain segments of the population.
During the Diretas Já pro-democracy movement in the 1980s, the Corinthians, led by national team members Socrates and Casagrande, were known for their tendency to intertwine football and politics.
In 1982, a football team wore jerseys during a game that displayed the phrase “VOTE on 15th” in an attempt to encourage their supporters to participate in the São Paulo state government election. This showed the intersection of football and politics.
Two years after, the Corinthians became the focal point of a movement known as Democracia Corintiana. Casagrande mentioned that this movement brought out over a million individuals wearing yellow onto the streets.
Casagrande stated that the yellow jersey played a crucial role in the significant moment for Brazilian democracy.
In 2013, during the protests against ex-President Dilma Roussef and corruption, the yellow jersey made a reappearance on the streets. As the South American country prepared to host the World Cup the following year, conservative demonstrators donned shirts in the colors of Brazil, while those on the left wore different hues.
Both Alexandre and Rezende Jr. suggest that wearing yellow t-shirts, as opposed to the red ones worn by government supporters during the left’s reign, shows a shift away from supporting communism.
Alexandre stated that Bolsonaro’s supporters used the color yellow as a symbol of their Brazilian identity and opposition to communism when he began his campaign.
The competition for the coveted yellow jersey evokes a desire to regain past glory for some, while others strive to redefine the significance of this symbolic icon. In a nation where football holds such a strong cultural significance, this matter is bound to persist.
According to Assumpção, it may take five or ten years for the football community and non-far right Brazilians to reclaim the jersey, but not at the present time.