Monday, November 28, 2022

How Brazil lost love for their national team after Neymar scandals and ties to Jair Bolsonaro

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Brazil’s famous yellow jersey has also become a symbol of the country’s political upheaval. Joshua Law investigates a reluctant fanbase who say they will support the Selecao “without passion” at the World Cup

Not for the first time in their illustrious history, Brazil go into Thursday’s World Cup as favorites – and with good reason. Their defense have conceded eight goals in their 29 games since October 2020 and their array of attacking talent, spearheaded by Neymar, is enough to make neutral players salivate and opponents tremble. In a country so passionately supportive of its national football team, one might expect this to translate into widespread optimism, excitement and even delirium. But in 2022 the World Cup fever was noticeably absent.

Walter Casagrande, Brazil’s center forward at the 1986 World Cup and now a pundit at Globo TV, recounts I: “My feeling, I think, is the same as that of a large majority of the population. We will support [the Selecao] without passion. This national team is very uncomfortable for the Brazilian fan…especially Neymar.”

The reasons for this apathy – or antipathy – are manifold. The fact that Brazil’s most promising talents are leaving the country at an increasingly young age for Europe’s top leagues is creating a distance between players and fans. More recently, the political positioning of some Selecao stars and the political symbolism of the team’s jersey have exacerbated the dislike. Yet, as Casagrande says, the nation’s most famous player is often the lightning rod for people’s negativity.

Neymar has always been seen as cocky by some Brazilians, but since his world-record transfer to Paris Saint-Germain in 2017 his popularity has plummeted, his reputation further tarnished by allegations of sexual assault and tax evasion. Neymar denies both allegations.

In 2019 he missed the Copa America over a rape allegation, although the investigation was later dropped. Reports of sexual violence surfaced again in 2021, with the Wall Street Journal running a story that long-time sponsor Nike dropped Neymar in 2020 because, according to a Nike employee quoted by the WSJ, he “refused to take part in an investigation in to cooperate in good faith credible allegations of misconduct.” The investigation concerned an attack on a Nike employee, which Neymar has denied, and which allegedly took place in New York in 2016.

Meanwhile, Spanish authorities were investigating Neymar over private corruption and attempted fraud related to his move from Santos to Barcelona in 2013, and Brazil’s Federal Treasury Department was prosecuting him for an eight million Brazilian reals debt related to unpaid income tax. Neymar has denied all allegations of misconduct.

Neymar also maintains a friendly relationship with Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro, and Neymar’s father, Neymar Sr., visited Bolsonaro in Brasilia to discuss his son’s tax debts in 2019. Three years later, the debt is still unpaid.

When Neymar posted a TikTok dance that acted as a statement of support for Bolsonaro in the run-up to October’s deeply contentious presidential election, many shouted foul.

When asked about Neymar’s support for Bolsonaro, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, the opposition candidate who defeated Bolsonaro in the second round, quipped: “I think he’s afraid that if I win the elections, I’ll know how much of him.” he was pardoned by Bolsonaro’s income tax debt. Obviously Bolsonaro made a deal with his father.”

However, Neymar is not the only senior member of the Selecao squad to back Bolsonaro, which may further explain the team’s lack of popularity, particularly on the left or in the center of Brazilian politics.

Alisson and Dani Alves have both offered words of support to the President, and the day before the second round vote, Thiago Silva posted the words “God, Fatherland, Family, Freedom” in an Instagram Story, mimicking Bolsonaro’s campaign slogan, the was taken over by the Brazilian Integralists, a fascist movement present in the country since the 1930s.

Casagrande, who was a notable figure in the movement to re-democratize Brazil that gained momentum towards the end of Brazil’s 1964-1985 military dictatorship, says he is “outraged” to see players supporting Bolsonaro.

“The Bolsonaro government is a fascist government,” he explains. “They are destroying the Amazon, decimating indigenous peoples, more than 35 million people are starving in this country. [Bolsonaro] not bought [coronavirus] vaccinations. Almost 700,000 people died.”

The animosity towards the team is compounded by the fact that the Selecao’s iconic jersey has been adopted as the uniform of Bolsonaro’s most rabid supporters. When these supporters took to the streets after Bolsonaro’s election defeat to question the validity of the results, blocking main roads and lining up outside barracks, they formed a writhing mass in canary yellow.

“You can’t look at the national team’s yellow jersey and only see football,” says Casagrande. “[Bolsonaro supporters] are on the street in yellow shirts and call for a military coup. The yellow shirt is used by putschists.”

for dr Miguel Stedile, a researcher specializing in the history of Brazilian football and politics and a political activist in the Landless Workers’ Movement, the new meaning given to the jersey is key to understanding the mood around it World Championship.

“I find [the use of the yellow shirt by Bolsonaro supporters] caused a greater dislike [to the team] than [players’] political opinions,” says Stedile. “These players have expressed their opinions on social media, but they are not full-time, militant Bolsonaristas. I think the really militant Bolsonaristas blocking the streets created people’s dislike for the Selecao because they are extremists.”

Despite all of the current negativity, both Stedile and Casagrande are hopeful that cracks will heal and forgiveness will be earned.

When asked if all Brazilians will be able to unite behind the national team in the future, Stedile replies: “I think it will happen at some point. But not during this World Cup. The association of the people with the Selecao reproduces their relationship with the land. And in this case the country is still too divided and polarized to have much unity around the jersey.”

“The Seleção can restore passion for the team by playing well [at the World Cup]’ says Casagrande. “But the yellow shirt will still need some time. You can’t turn on the TV and see the yellow jersey and just watch the boys play [football]. The yellow shirt is in the streets calling for a coup.

“It’s unfortunate that I have to say this because the yellow jersey isn’t just for the Brazilians, it’s for the whole world. It is the jersey of the five-time world champion. Pele’s shirt. Ronaldo’s shirt…

“The jersey won’t be saved until January, when Lula becomes president. Then, little by little, the jersey can become one for all Brazilians again. Lula will have a rescue job in every way. Saving the yellow jersey will be part of that work.”

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