Jair Bolsonaro: How the yellow jersey divides Brazil

This famous yellow jersey was captured in the imagination of the world public at the 1970 World Cup. Inspired by Pele’s mesmerizing performance – he wore the number 10 shirt – the yellow jersey has represented Brazil’s success on the pitch and created a positive image around the world for the past five decades.

Fast forward to 2020 and Bolsonaro’s critics say the iconic yellow jersey has now been tainted by its close association with the Brazilian president.

Walter Casagrande, a former Brazil and São Paulo-based Corinthians footballer, recalls scoring a goal in the yellow jersey in his first match for the Seleção in 1985.

“It was a magical thing,” Casagrande told CNN Sport, “like an enchanted item that made me feel great emotions.”

Casagrande’s sentiment lies on the left side of the political gulf separating Bolsonaro’s supporters and opponents, and he feels that a subject he holds dear is being distorted.

“Now I consider the Brazilian yellow jersey stolen and embezzled by the right, so we can’t use it.”

Casagrande said that for him, the strength of the yellow shirt was that it represented democracy and freedom.

“Brazil looks terrible to the world right now,” he said. “For the first time in my life, I see the yellow jersey being used against democracy and freedom.”

Supporters of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro pray during a motorcade and protest against the National Congress and Supreme Court over lockdown measures amid the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic in front of the National Congress on May 9, 2020 in Brasilia.
The demonstrator holds a banner with the inscription

“It’s not about politics”

As quick as Bolsonaro was to be criticized by the left, his supporters were quick to strike back.

Cosmo Alexandre, a Brazilian fighter who holds multiple Muay Thai and kickboxing world titles, believes the left is tying its many problems to Bolsonaro and is using the jersey as another way to express dissatisfaction.

As a supporter of Bolsonaro, Alexandre brushes aside accusations of manipulating the jersey symbolism and says the reason fans wear the yellow jersey is simple: everyone in Brazil has a yellow jersey.

He notes that the fans do not always wear the jerseys of the Brazilian team, and the rallies are full of people in yellow jerseys of all stripes.

Alexander says there is a difference between the sporting reputation of a T-shirt and associations between what it represents politically.

“All over the world, everyone knows about the Brazilian football team, so even if I go to the fight and wear a yellow jersey, everyone knows that this is Brazil,” he said. “So it’s not about politics – it’s just that the world knows about football in Brazil.”

Some may find it easier than others to isolate football and politics in a country where football is God.

Josemar de Rezende Jr. is a football fan who, before the elections, co-founded the Bolsonaro Volunteer Group in his city. He said he was proud of the Brazilian team’s winning reputation around the world, and for him the yellow jersey “means love for the country, leadership, achievement and pride.”

Supporters of President Jair Bolsonaro hold a rally against current Governor of Rio de Janeiro Wilson Witzel on May 31, 2020 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Supporters of Brazilian President Jair Messias Bolsonaro gather to support him and protest against racism and the death of blacks in Brazil's slums during a Black Lives Matter protest at Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro on June 7, 2020.

White and blue uniform campaign

However, the yellow jersey has become so controversial that there is now a campaign for Brazil to play in the white jersey.

João Carlos Assumpsão, Brazilian journalist, filmmaker and author of the book “Gods of Football” about the political, sociological and economic history of Brazil, is leading the campaign for the Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF) to completely abandon the yellow jersey and return to the classic blue and white kit. when the program started in 1914.

CNN contacted CBF, who responded that they preferred not to comment on the matter “because it’s a very unique issue.”

“People used to love Brazilian football because we played very well,” Assumpsão said, “and if we play well in the white shirt in 2022, I think everyone will buy the white shirt. but I think it’s not impossible.”

A supporter of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro cries during a demonstration in support of his government amid the coronavirus pandemic in front of the Planalto Palace on May 24, 2020 in Brasilia, Brazil.
Masked demonstrators raise their fist at Paulista Avenue during a protest against the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic on June 14, 2020 in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
The white and blue jersey was considered a failure when Brazil lost the World Cup. at home in Uruguay in 1950 so they switched to the yellow jersey and won five world championships in it, the last record that still stands today.

Assumpsão’s vision for the color change is to tell the world that Brazilians want change in the country. “Not the changes that this government is making,” Assumpsao explained.

On the other side of the political spectrum, yellow, including the yellow jersey, symbolizes positive changes in the country. Supporter of Bolsonaro Rezende Jr. believes that the left’s attempt to reclaim the yellow jersey is an attempt to “mischaracterize the government”, which he describes as “a patriotic government that represents and enjoys the support of all social classes across the country”.

Supporters of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro show their support in Brasilia on May 31, 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Rival football fans unite

The political unrest in the country reflects the fierce football rivalry between cities across Brazil. Except it’s not restricted to city limits and has amassed a fan base in recent months.

Sao Paulo is home to four major clubs: Corinthians, Palmeiras, Sao Paulo and Santos. The rivalry between Corinthians and Palmeiras is particularly intense, and in June groups from each club rallied in the streets to protest Bolsonaro’s supporters.

Sociologist Rafael Castillo, a member of the Collective Corinthian Democracy and coordinator of the Corinthians think tank, said that in order to overcome the current political situation, Brazil will have to “combine different ways of thinking and embrace the contradictory.”

Castillo explains that rival clubs feel civic responsibility by supporting each other and joining civil society movements “as the country is in a crisis of party representation and social movements are intimidated by police action,” he said, adding that “the attitude of fans has won sympathy because that part of society feels represented by the courage of the fans.”

Corinthians have a history of mixing football and politics. In the 1980s, during the pro-democracy movement called Diretas Já, the club’s team was led by national team leaders Socrates and Casagrande.

The two intertwined football with politics when, during a game in 1982, the team wore jerseys with the words “VOTE on the 15th” to motivate their fans to vote in the São Paulo state government elections.

Two years later, the Corinthians became the center of a movement called Democracia Corintiana, which, according to Casagrande, brought more than a million people dressed in yellow onto the streets.

“This was a very important moment for Brazilian democracy and this yellow jersey played a central role in this movement,” Casagrande said.

“I don’t want communism in my country”

The yellow jersey returned to the streets during the 2013 protests against ex-president Dilma Rousseff and against corruption. A year before the South American country was due to host the World Cup, conservative protesters wore shirts representing the colors of Brazil, while left-wing protesters used other colors.

Alexander and Rezende Jr. both say the yellow is an improvement over the red T-shirts worn by government supporters when the left was in power, hinting at covert support for communism.

“When Bolsonaro started running, his supporters used the color yellow to show that I am Brazilian and do not want communism in my country,” Alexander said.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro presents US President Donald Trump with a Brazil national team jersey at the White House on March 19, 2019 in Washington, DC.

The fight for the yellow jersey leaves some striving to recapture a victorious past, while others seek to give new meaning to the iconic symbol. In a country so deeply rooted in football, this problem is unlikely to go away.

Assumpsão believes that only the football community and Brazilians not affiliated with the far right can get the jersey back “maybe in five or 10 years, but not now. Not now”.