When the much-awaited Brazil 2022 World Cup shirt was released in August, student João Vitor Gonçalves de Oliveira rushed to get his hands on the kit.

The 20-year-old went to the nearest store, grabbed the famous yellow and green top and took it to the till, where he was met with an excited smile.

“The shop owner assumed I support the current government because I was buying the shirt, and started to rage against left-wing candidate Lula,” João tells the BBC.

João does not support the government of Jair Bolsonaro, who is standing for re-election on Sunday. But buying the shirt, he realised in the store, could make people think he did.

In order to avoid confrontation, João pretended to be a Bolsonaro supporter. It was another sign that the yellow and green shirt – made famous by Pele, Ronaldo, and many others – has become a symbol of a divided nation.

“The shirt has become stained with political meaning since 2014,” says Mateus Gamba Torres, a history professor at the University of Brasília.

Eight years ago, millions of Brazilians took to the streets to protest against the then-President, Dilma Rousseff, dressed in the colours of the flag as they demanded the left-winger’s impeachment.

Then in 2018, the colours were again used by the current president – far-right Jair Bolsonaro.

This year too, green, yellow and blue are the key colours at Mr Bolsonaro’s rallies, with people wearing T-shirts, the national flag and accessories.

“The green and yellow shirt has become a symbol of those related to Bolsonaro’s government,” Mr Gamba Torres says, “which means a good part of the population no longer identify with it.”

João’s encounter with the shop owner is not the only reason he is now hesitant to talk politics. In Brazil, political disputes can seemingly get deadly.

In July, Marcelo Aloizio de Arruda – a supporter of former president and left-wing candidate Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva – was shot dead at his 50th birthday party, allegedly by a police officer shouting in support of right-wing President Bolsonaro.

Before he died, Mr Arruda retaliated and shot his alleged attacker – who spent some time in hospital before being sent to prison, where he awaits trial.

And on 9 September, 44-year-old Benedito Cardoso dos Santos was allegedly killed by a colleague, following a heated political discussion between the two. The 22-year-old suspect remains in police custody.

Tech programmer Ruy Araújo Souza Júnior, 43, tells BBC News he will only wear the shirt at home, to avoid being mistaken for a Bolsonaro supporter.

If ex-President Lula wins the election, he hopes the shirt will “once again unite us and symbolise true love of our country, not a political party”.

Left-wing candidate Lula has focused on “reclaiming” the flag. Several of his supporters, such as singer Ludmilla, international star Anitta, and rapper Djonga, have made a point of wearing the shirt during their performances.

Djonga, who was part of Nike’s official campaign for the Brazilian World Cup kit, told a crowd at one concert that wearing the shirt in public was an act of protest.

“They [Bolsonaro supporters] think everything is theirs, they appropriate the meaning of family, they appropriate our national anthem, they appropriate everything,” he said. “But here’s the truth: everything is ours, nothing is theirs.”

But it’s not just Mr Bolsonaro’s opponents who are wary of wearing the shirt.

“I’m a patriot and right-wing. I really want to vote wearing my yellow shirt,” says Bolsonaro supporter Alessandra Passos, 41.

But due to the tense environment between voters, she says, she is “afraid to wear it on voting day”.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *