World Cup fever is heating up in Rio de Janeiro’s largest favela, Rocinha, and across Brazil – Copyright AFP ANDY BUCHANAN
A sea of streamers and mini Brazilian flags flutters over Freedom Alley, one of the countless narrow streets that crisscross Rio de Janeiro’s largest favela, Rocinha, which is dressed in World Cup splendor every four years.
But residents banned a graffiti portrait of superstar Neymar, a supporter of outgoing President Jair Bolsonaro, and scaled back the usual green and yellow, after the national colors became associated with the far-right in a divisive election whose wounds many Brazilians await. that the power of football will now help to heal.
“The flag is ours. We are cheering on our country. It has nothing to do with politics,” says Marcela Fadini Moreira, the 41-year-old teacher who organized the Freedom Alley entrance for Rocinha’s quadrennial World Cup street decoration contest.
Still, the bitter elections last month, in which Bolsonaro narrowly lost to veteran leftist Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, had an impact on the look of its street decorations for Qatar-2022, where Pelé’s country, Ronaldo and Ronaldinho looking for a record. sixth extendable title.
“People didn’t want us to paint Neymar, because he supported Bolsonaro” in the elections, Moreira says.
So she and her fellow volunteer decorators made a graffiti mural of local hero Pedro, striker for the national team and local club Flamengo.
They also added blue and white streamers to the usual green and yellow, toning down the colors adopted by Bolsonaro, who urged his supporters to wear the Brazilian national team jersey to vote in October’s elections.
– Looking to smile again –
Further up the hillside covered by the sprawling slum, other murals depict the players of the national team and the 2022 World Cup mascot, La’eeb.
A group of youngsters juggle a soccer ball in a circle, displaying the dexterity that has made Brazil famous for the “beautiful game.”
But enthusiasm for the World Cup has faded somewhat this year, says community leader Eliezer Oliveira, after the carnage of the coronavirus pandemic, an economic crisis and polarizing elections.
“Not many people were enthusiastic about decorating the streets this year,” says Oliveira, 57.
He hopes that will change if Brazil dazzles in Qatar.
“After all the problems we are going through… seeing Brazil crowned champion would put a smile on our faces again,” he says, proudly wearing the “Selecao” shirt.
– Less politics, more football –
Brazilians are increasingly catching World Cup fever as the five-time champions prepare to kick off their campaign on Thursday against Serbia.
The usual explosion of national team-themed flags, banners, balls and other decorations has arrived, albeit a little late, in bars, restaurants, shops and streets across the country.
In the São Paulo neighborhood of Vila Medeiros, Jadson Paixao decided to keep alive the tradition of decorating his street with his childhood friends.
“It’s great if people can enjoy the World Cup and forget about the elections,” says the 35-year-old Uber driver.
“Politics is politics. Soccer is soccer.”
Meanwhile, there is a movement to bring back the colors of the flag as a national symbol, instead of the extreme right.
Lula, who will be sworn in as president on January 1, launched a campaign to do just that, saying: “Green and yellow are the colors of anyone who loves and supports the country.”
The Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF) also weighed in, with an ad aimed at depoliticizing the national team jersey and “reconnecting” with fans.
“The World Cup is a moment of unity”, said the president of the CBF, Ednaldo Rodrigues.
“Football cannot live without the fans. Our goal is to connect people of all ages, places, colors, races, ideologies and religions with football.”
The success of that could depend on how well things go on the field.
“If Brazil wins, I think everyone will want to wear the national team shirt again,” Fabio Vassalo Grande, a 47-year-old businessman from São Paulo, told AFP in Qatar.
“For Brazilians, soccer is happiness.”