“No more politics, place for football”: Brazilians ignite for the World Cup

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Rio de Janeiro (AFP) – In an alley of Rocinha, the largest favela in Rio de Janeiro, the face of Pedro, a substitute striker for the Seleçao, is displayed on a fresco. Why not Neymar’s? “Because he supported Bolsonaro”.

For Marcela Fadini, a 41-year-old teacher, the Paris SG striker, the biggest star of a Brazilian team seeking a sixth world title in Qatar, is persona non grata on the walls of this popular district which wants to turn the page on an ultra-polarized election.

Like most other Seleçao players, Pedro preferred not to reveal his political convictions, at the time of the ballot which, last month, saw the far-right president Jair Bolsonaro fail in his bid for re-election against Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

In addition, he plays for Flamengo, the most popular club in Brazil.

For two years, and especially in the last two months, the Brazilian flag and the jersey of the national team have been recovered by the bolsonarists.

The Brazilian flag waved on an avenue in Sao Paulo, October 30, 2022
The Brazilian flag waved on an avenue in Sao Paulo, October 30, 2022 CARL DE SOUZA AFP/Archives

But on the eve of the great debut of the Seleçao in Qatar, Thursday, against Serbia, Brazilian football fans are gradually reclaiming the national colors.

“The flag is ours, it’s everyone’s. We’re defending our country, it has nothing to do with politics,” says Marcela Fadini, who has decorated her street at every World Cup since the 2002 edition , when the Seleçao won its last title.

“Less enthusiasm than before”

This year, blue and white, also present on the Brazilian flag, were favored for decorations in Rocinha, to the detriment of yellow and green, which have too many pro-Bolsonaro connotations.

In the upper part of Rocinha, installed, like many other favelas in Rio, on the hillside, multicolored frescoes put the inhabitants in the atmosphere of the World Cup.

A young boy comes out of his house with a ball and a football game is improvised.

On the walls, faces of players, but also the official mascot of the World Cup.

However, according to Eliezer Oliveira, a 57-year-old community leader, “people have been less enthusiastic than before to decorate the streets”, in a neighborhood strongly affected by a devastating Covid crisis, both in terms of health and economic.

Two children play ball in Rocinha, the largest favela in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on November 23, 2022.
Two children play ball in Rocinha, the largest favela in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on November 23, 2022. CARL DE SOUZA AFP

“After all that we have suffered, so many deaths, so many badly thought out policies, it would make us smile to see Brazil champion,” he says, proudly wearing his Seleçao jersey.

Not far from Rocinha, in the affluent and tourist district of Copacabana, shop windows are full of flags, balloons or jerseys, while street vendors sell their stocks on the beach.

The excitement is also starting to rise in the Vila Medeiros district of Sao Paulo, where a group of childhood friends have carried on the tradition of decorating their street with a mosaic of green-yellow flags and murals bearing the image of of Neymar.

“It’s great that people can enjoy the World Cup and forget the election. It’s a thing of the past. No more politics, place for football”, exclaims to AFP Jadson Paixao, an Uber driver from 35 years.

“Reconnect” supporters

Lula, who will begin his third term on January 1, this week launched a campaign to reclaim the colors of the Brazilian flag, which reads: “Brazil six times champion, Lula three times elected: green and yellow are the colors of those who feel love for their country”.

The Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF), for its part, produced an advertising spot to “reconnect” supporters with their national team.

“The World Cup is a moment of union, of celebration (…) and we want to connect people of all ages, all origins, all skin colors, all ideologies and all religions to football “said CBF President Ednaldo Rodrigues.

But everything will depend on the results of the Seleçao: “if we win, everyone will want to put on the jersey”, confides to AFP Fabio Vassalo Grande, a 47-year-old business manager who came from Sao Paulo to support Brazil in Qatar. .

“No more politics, place for football”: Brazilians ignite for the World Cup