Highlights

  • How Brazil's iconic football jersey became a divisive political symbol
  • Appropriation by right-wing Jair Bolsonaro
  • Lula hopeful jersey will reunite country once more

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Explained: how the iconic ‘Canarinho’ became a political symbol in Brazil

The same shirt that has always united 200 million Brazilians has seemingly divided the nation over its endorsement by politicians

For avid football fans, a yellow and green football jersey means only one thing. The colours of Brazil. The iconic and popular jersey that draws inspiration from Brazil’s flag’s colours, is unmissable, even for the occasional fans. And rightly so!

In the FIFA World Cup’s 92-year history, Brazil has been the most successful team with 5 titles to its name. But there’s more to this South American country’s jersey, fondly nicknamed ‘Canarinho’ by the people, than meets the eye. The ‘Canarinho’, is shaded in political colours.

The same shirt that has always united 200 million Brazilians has seemingly divided the nation over its endorsement by politicians. It began in 2014.

Eight years ago, Brazilians took to streets adorning colours of the national flag, demanding impeachment of then President Dilma Rousseff, a member of the left Workers’ Party. Come 2018, right leaning Jair Bolsonaro assumed office and with that began his brand of politics entwined with the nation’s most loved sport.

Bolsonaro loyalists, as a show of support, don the ‘Canarinho’ so much so that if one wore it particularly during the 2022 election time, it became synonymous with support for the right wing leader.

The BBC quoting history professor Gamba Torres, at the University of Brasilia said, ‘The green and yellow shirt has become a symbol of those related to Bolsonaro's government, which means a good part of the population no longer identify with it.’

Following Bolsonaro’s political branding of the jersey was the 2018 FIFA World Cup. The divisive politics ran so deep that during the marquee event, left-wing supporters and workers wore red jerseys to distance themselves from Jair’s political party.

Left-wing supporters including members of Workers’ Party, often accused by the right wing of not being patriotic by not using the flag or the green and yellow, make it a point to wear red to mark their protest against Bolsonaro’s appropriation of the nation’s colours.

In his 4 years as President, Bolsonaro left no stone unturned to align his politics with the jersey. When he visited former American President Donald Trump in 2019, he handed him a Brazilian jersey.

Bolsonaro’s supporters have thronged his rallies in a sea of greens and yellows, with the leader himself wearing the shirt during official and unofficial appearances. But like the country has often seen, political squabbles are prone to fatalities.

If a supporter of Bolsonaro seemingly wore the jersey in public, there is no guarantee of how left-wingers will react. Or vice-versa, a football loving, non-supporter of Bolsonaro cannot wear the jersey in open view without fearing for their life.

The BBC reports that in July 2022, a supporter of left-wing leader Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, Marcelo Aloizio de Arruda was shot dead at his 50th birthday party, allegedly by a police officer shouting in support of right-wing Bolsonaro.

Also Watch| Who is Lula? Brazil's new President

Before he died, Arruda reportedly retaliated and shot his alleged attacker, who spent some time in hospital before being put behind bars, where he awaits trial.

In another incident shrouded in political dispute, in September 2022, 44-year-old Benedito Cardoso dos Santos was allegedly killed by a co-worker, following a heated discussion between the two. The 22-year-old suspect is still in police custody.

With growing tussle over the ownership and sentimental value of the ‘Canarinho’, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, the left-wing leader, is hopeful that with changing political landscapes, the shirt could once more unite the country and ‘symbolise true love of our country, not a political party’.

Throughout his campaigning for presidential elections in 2022, Lula drew his focus around ‘reclaiming’ the flag.

According to the BBC report, many of Lula’s celebrity supporters including singer Ludmilla, international star Anitta, and rapper Djonga made it a point to wear the shirt during their performances in 2022.

Djonga, the report added, told the crowd at one of his concerts that wearing the shirt in public was an act of protest.

‘They [Bolsonaro supporters] think everything is theirs, they appropriate the meaning of family, they appropriate our national anthem, they appropriate everything,’ he said. ‘But here's the truth: everything is ours, nothing is theirs.’

The politicisation of the jersey may be recent but football and Brazilian politics have always been deeply connected since the 20th century.

During the military dictatorship that lasted for nearly 20 years, spanning from 1964 to 1985, dictators used football as a means to show the progress of the country.

In 1970, after Brazil won the World Cup, then military leader Emilio Medici took advantage of the win and turned it into a public relations campaign. His regime felicitated players as well as gave them hefty cash prizes.

But Medici’s involvement with the team’s coaching style after it failed to defend the title in 1974 did not sit well with players and coaches.

In the 1980s, as the country’s social and economic problems continued to escalate so did demonstrations against the military regime. Brazilian midfielder Socrates, in 1984, drew attention towards the movement demanding direct and democratic election of the country’s President.

Thirty-eight years later, football and politics continue to be entwined because for the first time in its history, according to BBC, Brazil's elections are so closely associated with the World Cup, socially as well as in timelines.

Professor Gamba Torres told BBC that Brazilians need to disassociate the shirt with politics. "A shirt is just a shirt," he says.

He added that the shirt does have meaning but it does not represent one specific government. The professor concluded saying governments come and go, but the country and team will always exist.

Also Watch| Brazil presidential polls 2022: Lula defeats incumbent Bolsonaro in an 'extremely' tight election

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