— Recently, the classic yellow and green-trimmed garment has become embroiled in partisan politics
RIO DE JANEIRO—As Brazilian fans get swept up in the drama of the Olympic Games, some say it’s safe to start showing their true colors again.
For generations, Brazilians have flaunted the national soccer team’s classic yellow and green-trimmed tunic to register their patriotism during soccer matches, especially World Cup contests. The replica jerseys also get trotted out on national holidays and other civic occasions.
But recently the canary-yellow garment has become embroiled in partisan politics. Over the last two years, the replica jersey became a wearable symbol for opponents of beleaguered President Dilma Rousseff, who now is awaiting the outcome of a Senate impeachment trial that could remove her from office.
During the mass street protests that rocked Brazil in 2015 and 2016, Rousseff’s allies in the leftist Workers’ Party, or PT, wore fire-engine red T-shirts, ball caps and bandanas to show their solidarity with her.
Critics of the president countered by pulling off a fashion coup d’etat: They appropriated the yellow jersey and turned it into a signifier of anti-government sentiment.
Amid the uproar, many of those weary of the political squabbling—or perhaps fearful of being targeted—quietly left their shirts at home.
But with the Olympic Games temporarily distracting the country from its problems, Brazilians of all political stripes are donning the yellow shirt again, some boldly, others (including PT faithful) a bit tentatively.
“I’m wearing it to support the country and show that I’m happy the Olympics are here,” said Eliane Victorio, who brought out her Brazilian Nike soccer jersey after months in the cupboard.
Critical of the move to impeach Rousseff, Victorio, 55, saw herself as “rescuing” the shirt after she temporarily had stopped wearing it. “I’m from a generation when people were proud to wear the shirt,” she said.
Workers’ Party member Rosane Moura, 54, said she continued to wear the shirt at parties and other events, in spite of the awkward connotations. “It doesn’t belong to those who are against the PT,” she said. “It belongs to Brazil. We’re proud of it.”
Oscar Alonzo, 50, a surgeon from Los Angeles who’s attending the Olympic Games with his daughters, said he was wearing the shirt because he’s a big fan of Brazil’s national soccer team and “wanted to come and show some respect to the Brazilian people.” He wasn’t viewing it as any kind of political statement.
“I understand that there is a political connotation for wearing this shirt,” Alonzo said. “Back home we’re dealing with Trump-Clinton, so I think we have bigger fish to fry when it comes to political issues.”
The decline of the national men’s soccer team has exacerbated the shirt’s recent shift in stature. Host Brazil got blown out of the 2014 World Cup in a notorious 7-1 defeat to Germany.
Marco Orelho, 46, a street vendor who sells the shirt in Copacabana, says the worsening fortunes of the national team and the politicization of the shirt created a double whammy for vendors.
“The sales fell because people lost their excitement about wearing the shirt,” he said.
On Wednesday night, the Selecao finally got its game together, thrashing Denmark 4-0 to secure Brazil’s passage into the next round of Olympic matches.
Even though the squad still has a long way to go to recapture the glory era of Pele and Garrincha, Brazilians feel more confident that their favorite jersey has been reabsorbed into the national fabric.
“Brazil lost its football and hasn’t found it yet,” said Rogerio Moura, 58, who was watching a Brazilian volleyball match with his wife. “But the shirt continues yellow.”
Write to Reed Johnson at Soccerjerseysreplica.com