Left-wing Brazilians hope to use their country’s first World Cup match to reclaim the famous yellow and green football shirt from Jair Bolsonaro’s far-right movement.
The canarinho (Little Canary) shirt has become the most powerful symbol of support for Brazil’s nationalist leader, who came to power in 2018 but saw his hopes of a second term dashed last month after left-wing former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva had won the presidential election.
Lula, who takes power on January 1, is leading efforts to regain control of the soccer jersey and other Brazilian symbols, such as the national anthem and flag.
The 77-year-old has announced that he will watch the game against Serbia on Thursday in a canarinho with the number 13 – representing his Workers’ Party (PT) – on the back. Left-wing football fanatics can download the design from Lula’s official website and make their own shirt.
“We can’t be ashamed of wearing our green and yellow shirt,” Lula recently told reporters. “[It] does not belong to one particular candidate. It does not belong to any particular party. Green and yellow are the colors of 213 million citizens who love this country.”
Marcelo Freixo, another prominent left-wing politician and football enthusiast, said he would see Brazil’s Qatar debut in a yellow and green shirt in tribute to his local team, Flamengo, as well as the legendary Seleção.
“Fascist movements have always expropriated national symbols, [but] … we won the election and it is now time to reclaim all our national symbols, which belong to all of us,” Freixo said. “The Brazilian flag, the Brazilian team and the national anthem have never belonged to the far right.”
Reginaldo Lopes, a PT congressman and ally of Lula, wore the canarinho during a recent interview with the Guardian – a look that would have once instantly marked him as a Bolsonarista.
“It should send the message that we are restoring democracy and that symbols like our flag and our jersey belong to everyone, not just one political faction,” Lopes said. “It is wrong for a… political faction to appropriate something that is a symbol for all Brazilians.”
Not all left-wing Brazilians find it easy to re-embrace a jersey that has come to represent an extremist president who devastated the Amazon and whose disastrous Covid response led to the deaths of nearly 700,000 civilians.
The reconciliation was further complicated by the fact that several of Brazil’s leading players – including star striker Neymar – are Bolsonaro supporters.
“I’m not ready to wear the shirt yet,” said Priscila Motta, a 43-year-old publicist, as she dropped her son off at school in Brazil’s blue away shirt on Thursday. “I don’t want to be confused with a Bolsonarista.”
André Porcaro, a 41-year-old engineer from the city of Eugenópolis, said he planned to put on his yellow shirt for the first time since the 2018 World Cup on Thursday.
“I think today – specifically today – the yellow shirt is not linked to politics. If someone sees me wearing the shirt on the street today, they won’t automatically assume I’m a Bolsominion,” Porcaro said, using one of the derogatory names for followers of the outgoing president.
But would Porcaro still wear yellow on Friday? “I don’t think so,” he said. “Maybe I’ll just wear it during the World Cup… I think it’s almost impossible to separate the yellow shirt from this political movement.”
Freixo believed it was time for a counterattack against Bolsonaro’s authoritarian attempt to kidnap the canarinho. “We need to reclaim and democratize these symbols,” he said, as Brazil’s players prepared for their quest for a sixth World Cup title.