Sports and politics are often strange bedfellows

Selecao

A man sells a towel with the image of Brazilian President and re-election candidate Jair Bolsonaro in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on September 27, 2022.

Photo credit: Ernesto Benavides | AFP

What you need to know:

  • We can only hope that after the polls, the famous jersey will regain its place as an object of affection by all fans of the Brazilian national team, yours truly included.

Six years ago, I had the privilege of travelling to Brazil to cover the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, where among the many peculiarities that instantly struck me was Brazilians’ love for their national colours.

I’m not sure whether it was all a perfectly-choreographed show to impress athletes, journalists and tourists from across the world, but during my more than two-weeks stay, the Brazilian colours were right there in my face.

I’m not just talking Brazilian flags that proudly bedecked every other public space I visited. On a daily basis, you could be sure that four in every 10 people on the streets of Rio were dressed in the iconic yellow and green jersey of the Brazilian national team.

The red and black hoops of Flamengo and the maroon and green of their cross-town rivals Fluminense were also visible, but not as much as the yellow and green that has over the years been passed down Brazil’s endless conveyor belt of great players such as Pele, Zico, Socrates, Romario, Ronaldo, Ronaldinho and the current generation of Neymar and company.

Coming from a country where even on Harambee Stars’ biggest match days, the average ‘diehard’ fans will still show up at Kasarani or Nyayo Stadium dressed in ‘alien’ jerseys, I was truly awestruck by the Brazilian love for Selecao’s revered jersey.

Fast forward to 2022 and the famous yellow and green shirt has now become a symbol of a divided nation.

The reason here being that with Brazilians going to the polls on Sunday to elect a new president, for some strange reasons, the national team jersey has been thrust into politics of the days pitting the incumbent Jair Bolsonaro, a far-right candidate who is seeking re-election, and his main challenger left-wing candidate Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who is seeking a second stint in office having been the president between 2003 and 2010.   

The long and the short of the story is that President Bolsonaro has adopted the green, yellow and blue in the Brazilian flag as the key colours at his political rallies, in the process turning the Brazilian team jersey into an object of aversion by a good part of the electorate who are rooting for Lula.

This strange love-hate for the national jersey has spilled over to the pitch with fans and players torn between.

Among the fans it’s now a question of which between the yellow shirt and alternative blue one that Brazil used in this week’s friendly match against Tunisia, will best suit the team at the Fifa World Cup in Qatar later in the year.

There is even a supporter group by the name Movimento Verde e Amarelo (Green and Yellow movement) which thinks the World Cup will help get Brazilians back behind the yellow shirt.

Such is the extent of divergent public discourses that the Brazilian jersey is presently eliciting as a strange by-product of the coming together of politics and sports.

But Brazilians are not alone on this matter. In many other places around the world, politics and sports have always had a way of getting in each other’s way, occasionally for a good reason but most of the time for all the wrong reasons.

We can only hope that after the polls, the famous jersey will regain its place as an object of affection by all fans of the Brazilian national team, yours truly included.

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