Joedson Alves/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
- Thousands of the Brazilian rioters who stormed the national congress wore the same shirt.
- The Brazilian national team’s soccer jersey has been appropriated by Bolsonaro for years.
- Since the 1960s, authoritarian forces in Brazil have used the yellow jersey for political motives.
As thousands of Brazilian supporters of ex-President Jair Bolsonaro rioted in the country’s capital on Sunday, many of them wore a shirt and national symbol appropriated by the former right-wing leader.
After months of protests and road blockades in opposition to Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva’s 2022 election, Bolsonaro’s supporters stormed Brazil’s parliament, presidential palace, and supreme court in Brasilia on Sunday in scenes eerily similar to the January 6, 2021 insurrection in the US.
Photos showed a sea of yellow, with many rioters wearing the Brazilian national soccer team’s iconic canary-colored jersey — which has a long history of being co-opted by right-wing forces in Brazil.
Supporters of Brazil’s far-right former President Jair Bolsonaro who dispute the election of leftist President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva gather at Planalto Palace after invading the building as well as the Congress and Supreme Court, in Brasilia, Brazil January 8, 2023.
Bolsonaro has told his supporters to ‘vote with the jersey’
Bolsonaro — who has yet to formally concede his recent election loss — made the jersey a symbol for his supporters as early as 2015, when he became the center of a movement to unseat former Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff. By the time he won the election in 2018, and in 2022, he urged his supporters to “vote with the yellow jersey!” according to The Athletic.
Brazil’s most famous current player, Neymar, has shown up as one of Bolsonaro’s biggest supporters, endorsing him multiple times and elevating the link between the jersey and Bolsonaro. When Brazil’s national team won the 2019 Copa America, Bolsonaro sat squarely with the players and trophy, smiling ear to ear as he parroted the win.
By Sunday, thousands of Brazilians wore the jersey as they carried out their assault on democracy.
Security forces detain supporters of Brazil’s former President Jair Bolsonaro during a demonstration against President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, in Brasilia, Brazil, January 8, 2023.
Brazil’s soccer association spoke out about the riots
Brazil’s Ministry of Justice said that over 1,000 people have been arrested, according to CNN. Bolsonaro is currently in Florida seeking medical treatment.
Last week’s scenes in Brazil’s capital also triggered condemnation from the Brazilian Football Confederation, a typically outwardly apolitical organization.
“The Brazilian national team shirt is a symbol of the joy of our people,” the CBF tweeted on Monday. “It’s to cheer, energize and love the country. We encourage that the shirt be used to unite and not divide Brazilians.”
Supporters of Brazil’s former President Jair Bolsonaro demonstrate against President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, outside Planalto Palace in Brasilia, Brazil, January 8, 2023.
The right-wing in Brazil has used the shirt for politics since the 1960s
After a newspaper held a design contest for a new national team kit in 1953, a yellow and green model was chosen and the old white and blue kit was relegated to history.
The appropriation of Brazil’s Seleção Canarinho (little canary) shirt, the national team’s vibrant yellow jersey with green trim, goes back to the days of the country’s military dictatorship from 1964 to 1985, a time period when Brazil won the 1970 World Cup with Pelé starring.
“Under [Emilio] Medici, the military would use football as an exemplar of the unified and morally upstanding Brazil it was trying to create,” David Goldblatt wrote in the book “Futebol Nation: A Footballing History of Brazil.” “The reality was often less edifying.”
Pele 1970 World Cup.
Photo by Getty Images
During a period of hyperinflation, cultural censorship, and political repression, Brazil’s dictatorship centered soccer and the national team as the ultimate expression of patriotic consciousness – a move that Bolsonaro, who was an army captain during the dictatorship, replicated with his supporters.
At the time, Brazil’s 1970 World Cup win helped the dictatorship lay claim to the national team’s colors on the world stage, as success on the pitch was re-framed as the strength of Brazil’s nationalism.
“The 1970 World was the first of its kind to be broadcast in color, and that gives it, for those who saw it, a kind of chromatic magic,” Goldblatt wrote. “Brazil’s yellow shirts shimmered and sparkled in the blistering white sunlight of the Mexican noon — the appointed time of kick-offs to support European TV schedules.”
Just months ago, Brazil’s national team wore the kit during the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar, where players like Neymar and Richarlison picked apart defenses and danced while celebrating goals during a short-lived run to the quarter-finals. Now, a new administration will seek to reform a newly-tangled image of the jersey.
There is a move to re-appropriate the shirt on the left
During da Silva’s first weeks in charge, he’s already tried to pry the jersey from the clutches of the right wing, now that wearing it has partially become synonymous with being a Bolsonarista, according to The Guardian.
“We can’t be ashamed of wearing our green and yellow shirt,” da Silva said in late November, per The Guardian. “[It] doesn’t belong to one particular candidate. It doesn’t belong to one particular party. Green and yellow are the colors of 213 million citizens who love this country.”
Da Silva said he’d go back to wearing the jersey with the number 13 — the number of the Worker’s party — and made his design available for soccer fans to download and add to their jersey, as a political statement.