Brazil is a power but political divisions could derail Titus’ swan song | Brazil
Eor four years, the Caiçara district in Belo Horizonte has been transformed. Rows of Brazilian flags dance on lampposts and telephone poles; the roads and sidewalks are daubed with blue, green and yellow paint by an army of volunteers.
It’s a tradition that dates back to the 1994 World Cup and has so far gone without any objections. This time, however, the local community felt it necessary to issue a warning. Thus, among the streamers and balloons, a banner reads: “NOTÃO E POLÍTICA, COPA.“It’s not politics, it’s the cut.
As Júlio César Silva Freitas, one of the exhibit’s organizers, explained to the local news site BHAZ: “When we started painting, we suffered a lot, on both sides. Some passed by shouting: “Yeah, Bolsonaro! Others said it was nonsense. We tried to explain; some accepted it, others did not.
Welcome to the political minefield that is Brazilian football in 2022. And of course, the two have never really been separated. From the moment the game began to take hold in South America, Brazilian leaders saw football as an indispensable lever of power, a means not only to exploit popular sentiment, but also to articulate their own vision. peculiar to the nation.
A century ago, President Epitácio Pessoa sought to exclude black players from the national team. The 1970 World Cup victory was enthusiastically hijacked by the military government for propaganda purposes. More recently, the rise of populist Jair Bolsonaro has rekindled debate over the meaning of Brazil’s national symbols, including the national team’s prized yellow jersey.
Brazil’s president since 2018 but a loser in last month’s general election, Bolsonaro and his supporters often wore the jersey to rallies, an attempt to appropriate it as the emblem of their patriotic far-right movement. To some extent, that worked: many progressive Brazilians now reject the yellow shirt because of its political connotations, or choose the blue change stripe instead.
Bolsonaro’s elected successor, left-winger Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, instead tried to detoxify the shirt, saying he would wear it during the World Cup. “The Greens and Yellows are not candidates, they are not a party,” he said. “Green and yellow are the colors of the 213 million people who love this country.”
And really it’s a discussion that goes much deeper than breathable clothing. Under Bolsonaro, Brazil has become more divided and politicized than at any other time in its democratic era. The nebulous hope is that a sixth World Cup victory – O Hexa — could help heal some of those divisions, rally a wounded nation around a single common cause, perhaps even reclaim the national jersey from reactionaries and racists. The harsh reality, of course, is that these days football is just another arena of the political battleground, although members of the setup would prefer it otherwise.
The man charged with the unenviable task of brokering this fractured legacy is Tite, who in his six years as Brazil coach strove to avoid getting involved in politics, with a partial success. Many leftists see a certain veiled ally in his measured statements about “social responsibility” and “greater equality” and his warnings against politicizing the national team.
Three years ago, when Brazil won the Copa América on home soil, Tite’s abrupt and superficial acknowledgment of Bolsonaro during the victory ceremony was interpreted as his own small act of resistance. Unlike previous coaches, he has pledged not to visit the president in Brasília if he wins the World Cup, breaking a tradition that dates back to their first win in 1958. Yet he understandably refused to develop his own political allegiances. “I’m not going to fight this battle,” he told Folha de São Paulo in October. “I will vote in secret and I have my ideas very clear.”
The problem is not that all of his players feel the same. One of Bolsonaro’s staunchest supporters during the election campaign was Neymar, who as well as offering his support promised to dedicate his first World Cup goal to the incumbent president. Veteran defenders Thiago Silva and Dani Alves have also offered their support to Bolsonaro in the past, as well as former players Romario, Ronaldinho and Rivaldo. Meanwhile, Tottenham winger Richarlison has spoken out on a number of social justice causes in recent months, although he has so far refrained from lining up with any particular candidate.
The rich irony is that on talent and form, this Brazil side go to Qatar as one of the favourites. Since the last World Cup, they have lost three out of 50 games, all by a single goal. Their forward line – which boasts not just Richarlison and Neymar but Vinícius Júnior, Rodrygo, Antony, Gabriel Jesus, Gabriel Martinelli, Pedro and Raphinha – would be the envy of any team in the world. And yet the question remains: can such a fundamentally divided side ever truly unite?
Tite has already announced that he will quit as coach after the tournament and quashed rumors of a ban on discussing politics inside the camp. “It doesn’t exist,” he said. “Or we only have democracy when you agree with me. Democratically, we must respect each other’s positions.
Yet for a nation that feels exhausted, anxious and scarred by years of political wrangling, this World Cup represents perhaps the last realistic attempt to articulate a shared vision of what it means to be Brazilian. In the event of victory, the vision of a single unified Brazil could well hold. Defeat, on the other hand, risks reopening old wounds, old divisions, old uncertainties.