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Brasilien Demonstration vor dem Planalto-Palast in Brasilia
Image: picture alliance / ASSOCIATED PRESS

Why Bolsonaro supporters wear Brazil's football shirt

Hecko Flores
January 10, 2023

Brazil's iconic yellow jersey has long stood for some of football's best moments. But that's also made it a target for political movements which have used its imagery for their own gain.


Bolsonaro supporters storm government buildings in Brasilia

Shattered glass and debris littered the entrance of Brazil's Congress as rioters clad in yellow football shirts smashed through windows to break into the building.

While some protesters had the names of players such as Pelé and Neymar on the back of their shirts, they wore the jersey in support of former Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro as they refused to accept his defeat in October's elections.

"Today you see Bolsonaristas wearing the national team's jersey as if it were theirs," explains Jamil Chade, a Brazilian author and journalist. "As if it were the shirt of a political party in Brazil."

Brazil's jersey is one of football's most iconic and recognized kits. The canary yellow shirt represents the most successful team in World Cup history and for years, it united the country through its passion for the game.

But the shirt's political symbolism has alienated fans of the national team and divided the nation.

Embroiled in politics

Ahead of Brazil's hosting of the World Cup in 2014, corruption allegations surrounded the tournament.

Thousands of people took to the streets of major Brazilian cities dressed in the colors of the flag to protest the government spending millions to host the event. Many used their yellow kit as a symbol of patriotism.

"When the corruption scandals broke out, there was an almost instant reaction of wearing the shirt of Brazil's national team to say: I'm against corruption because I'm Brazilian," says Chade.

But the protests that originally were against high public transportation and World Cup costs continued after the tournament ended.

In 2015, protesters wearing the jersey called for the impeachment of then-President Dilma Rousseff. She was eventually ousted from office. In 2018, the colors were again seen out on the country's streets, only this time they had been seized by groups in favor of then presidential candidate Bolsonaro.

Brasilien Brasilia | Bolsonaro Anhänger stürmen Palácio do Planalto
Bolsonaro supporters clad in yellow Brazil football shirts overrun police and ransack governmental buildings in the Brazilian capital.Image: Eraldo Peres/AP Photo/picture alliance

His campaign was notorious for the way it used national symbols such as the flag, the anthem and Brazil's famous yellow shirt.

"That discontent was real, but it started to take another form and became the Bolsonarista movement that today is deeply rooted in the country," said Chade.

Choosing sides

Yellow and green are key colors at Bolsonaro's rallies, with his supporters wearing the Brazilian jersey to show political allegiance and forcing football fans to ditch the shirt as to not be associated with the politician.

Critics of Bolsonaro say the iconic yellow jersey has become tarnished by its close association with the far-right movement.

"I want to talk about the pride I felt wearing the yellow jersey of Brazil. The yellow shirt has always been on the side of democracy, justice and freedom," said Walter Casagrande, a former player who was part of the Brazil squad at the 1986 World Cup.

"About four years ago, it was kidnapped by anti-democratic, racist, homophobic and bigoted groups. It had never been in that position," said Casagrande during a video he published via Instagram in 2020.

However, other former players such as Ronaldinho and Rivaldo have openly shown their support for Bolsonaro. Even active players such as Felipe Melo and Lucas Moura have announced their support for the far-right politician.

Neymar, Brazil's star player, shared a video on TikTok backing Bolsonaro just a few days before the 2022 elections and even appeared as a special guest during a Bolsonaro livestream at the end of October 2022.

"The World Cup is getting near, so everything would be wonderful with Bolsonaro re-elected, Brazil lifting the World Cup and everyone will be happy," said Neymar during the event.

The player even assured Bolsonaro that he would dedicate his first goal at the World Cup in Qatar to him by holding up two fingers on each hand, indicating a 22, Bolsonaro's ballot box code.

World Cup 2022 – Brazil's missed chance

Yet Neymar did not keep his promise as Bolsonaro lost his re-election bid just a month out from the 2022 World Cup against Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

When sportswear giant Nike, which sponsors the Brazilian national team, unveiled a new kit for the World Cup in Qatar, it did so focusing on the shirt's jaguar print honoring to the country's wildlife – an effort to distance the jersey from politics.

A set of ad campaigns have been under way to reclaim the shirt from the far-right, with Brazilian artists such as rapper Djonga and singer Ludmilla wearing the yellow jersey on stage aiming to inspire fans to wear the colors again.

Even president-elect Lula urged Brazilians to use their shirts ahead of the tournament. "We do not need to feel ashamed of wearing the green and yellow shirt," he said via Twitter. "The shirt does not belong to a political party, it belongs to the Brazilian people."

Brazil were among the favorites at the start of the tournament, fueling excitement among fans, particularly among those which had stopped wearing the team's jersey. But the World Cup didn't go as expected and the Seleção's exit in the quarterfinals didn't help the cause.

Brazil's iconic jersey which stood as a symbol of victory for years is now further marred by the incidents in Brasilia that have been described as an "assault on democracy."

The process of reclaiming Brazil's football shirt from the far right and disassociating it from politics has been put on hold for an indefinite time.

Edited by Matt Ford.