Left-wing Brazilians are hoping to use their country’s first World Cup match to reclaim their familiar yellow and green soccer jersey from Jair Bolsonaro’s far-right movement.
The canarinho (little canary) shirt has become the most potent symbol of support for Brazil’s nationalist leader, who won power in 2018 but had his hopes of a second term dashed last month after leftist former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva won the presidential election.
Lula, who takes power on January 1, is spearheading efforts to take back control of the soccer kit, as well as other Brazilian symbols such as the national anthem and flag.
The 77-year-old has announced that he will watch Thursday’s match against Serbia wearing a canarinho with the number 13 – which represents his Workers’ Party (PT) – emblazoned on his back. Left-wing football fanatics can download the design from Lula’s official website and make their own shirt.
“We cannot be ashamed to wear our green and yellow shirt,” Lula recently told reporters. “[It] does not belong to a particular candidate. It does not belong to a particular party. Green and yellow are the colors of 213 million inhabitants who love this country.”
Marcelo Freixo, another prominent left-wing politician and soccer enthusiast, said he would watch Brazil’s Qatar debut wearing a yellow and green shirt and pay tribute to his local team, Flamengo, as well as the great 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, said Freixo. “The Brazilian flag, the Brazilian team and the national anthem have never belonged to the far right.”
Reginaldo Lopes, a PT congressman and Lula ally, sported the canarinho during a recent interview with the Guardian — a look that once would have immediately marked him as a Bolsonarista.
“It’s meant to send the message that we’re reclaiming democracy and that symbols like our flag and our jersey belong to everyone, and not just a political faction,” Lopes said. “It is wrong for a … political faction to try to appropriate something that is a symbol for all Brazilians.”
Not all left-wing Brazilians find it easy to embrace a jersey that has come to represent an extremist president who devastated the Amazon and whose disastrous Covid response left nearly 700,000 citizens dead.
The reconciliation has been further complicated by the fact that several leading Brazilian players – including star forward 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 on Thursday wearing Brazil’s blue away shirt. “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 pull on the yellow shirt for the first time since the 2018 World Cup on Thursday.
“I think that today – especially today – the yellow shirt is not connected to politics. Today, if someone sees me wearing the shirt on the street, they won’t automatically assume I’m a Bolsominion,” Porcaro said, using one of the derogatory names for supporters of the outgoing president.
But would Porcaro still be wearing 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 the time had come to launch a counterattack against Bolsonaro’s authoritarian attempt to kidnap the canarinho. “We have to reclaim these symbols and democratize them,” he said, as Brazil’s players prepared to begin their quest for a sixth World Cup title.