Why Brazil election could impact Neymar, Tite, World Cup

With less than three weeks to go, Brazil – the soccer team – head to the 2022 World Cup in Qatar and are among the favorites to win it all. Ahead of the tournament, they not only top the FIFA rankings but have lost just two competitive games in the last six years and boast an established mix of veterans and youngsters led by a coach, Tite, who is a national hero and a superstar , Neymar, who is likely to break Pele’s record as the country’s top international goalscorer in Qatar or soon after.

On Sunday, Brazil – the nation – goes to the polls in a hard-fought run-off election pitting left-wing former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, known as Lula, against incumbent Jair Bolsonaro. Even by the normally polarized standards of Brazilian politics, this has been a bitter and sometimes vicious struggle that has divided the nation.

It’s quite a remarkable juxtaposition of important events in Brazilian life. Neymar has shown his support for Bolsonaro by appearing in a live stream on the president’s YouTube channel and posting videos on social media – the Paris Saint-Germain striker has more than 180 million followers on Instagram alone – and the incumbent President supported. While he’s not the only member of the Brazilian Selecao to endorse him, few have done so publicly and none can match his reach and popularity. This even led Bolsonaro’s challenger Lula to believe that the current president had struck a deal with Neymar and his father to forgive some of his income tax debt in exchange for his support.

We’re breaking new ground here: one in two presidential candidates is accusing the country’s biggest star of effectively selling his political support to his rival on the eve of a World Cup. But it doesn’t end there.

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Brazil coach Tite, while not mentioning Neymar by name, has lamented the “politicization” of the national team. The quirky reference to Bolsonaro supporters, many of whom appear at rallies in the famous green and gold jerseys, was hard to miss. He also reiterated that he would not meet Bolsonaro, either for Brazil’s pre-World Cup farewell or after, even if he returns victorious from Qatar.

If Brazil are world champions and Tite doesn’t travel to the capital Brasilia as coach to meet the president, he would be breaking with a tradition that dates back to 1958 when they won the first of their five World Cups. It’s the equivalent of a Super Bowl winner turning down an invite to the White House, with the added wrinkle that a Super Bowl winner is one of 32 franchises; The Selecao is the footballing embodiment of 214 million Brazilians, and Bolsonaro will become president even if he loses the runoff, as his term doesn’t end until December 31, two weeks after the World Cup final.

There is a history of tension between Tite and Bolsonaro. When Brazil won the 2019 Copa America and Bolsonaro presented medals to players and staff, Tite only gave the president a cursory handshake before quickly walking away. Two years later, he criticized Bolsonaro for insisting that Brazil should host the competition again at short notice and amid the COVID-19 pandemic. However, Tite insists it is a matter of principle and says he would not celebrate a World Cup with Lula either.

“My opinion hasn’t changed,” he said. “I see the Brazilian national team as part of our collective cultural and sporting heritage… It’s such a beautiful thing, it transcends everything… It’s our voice as Brazilians.”

We’ve grown accustomed to athletes taking sides on social issues, but outspoken political endorsements like Neymar Bolsonaro’s remain a rarity, at least among those who are still active. Part of this may have to do with Michael Jordan’s apocryphal quote that “Republicans buy sneakers, too.” Part of that might be a genuine understanding that potentially alienating part of that city/region/country when you represent a team or region (let alone an entire country) is wrong. However, Brazil as a nation will enter its biggest quadrennial sporting event still bearing the scars of a bitter race for the presidency. And to some extent – given the public stance taken by Tite and Neymar – there is a legitimate fear that they will extend to a national side that has not only been successful to date, but has also been a beacon of unity and patriotism.

The irony is that during his more than six-year tenure with Brazil, Tite has done a masterful job of ensuring that egos are checked at the entrance to the dressing room and that the Selecao are a real unit, playing with the spirit of a club team . and not only as a collection of the best footballers in the country. Sure, it’s easier to maintain unity when you’re successful, but even during Brazil’s rare setbacks — they were knocked out in the quarter-finals of the 2018 World Cup and lost the 2021 Copa America final — by and large they managed to survive To avoid the finger-pointing, division and finger-pointing that so often follows national disappointments.

The question now is whether politics have somehow untied the ties and upset the balance that has made Brazil such a powerhouse under Tite. Whether the superstar (Neymar) and the manager (Tite) have different views on Bolsonaro somehow spoils what will most likely be the last World Cup for both men.

Two hundred and fourteen million Brazilians hope that will not be the case and pray that the differences will either be skin deep or be brushed aside in Qatar. Politics must not be allowed to infiltrate and derail the nation’s quest for a sixth World Cup.

https://www.espn.com/soccer/blog-marcottis-musings/story/4783393/why-brazil-election-could-impact-neymar-tite-and-world-cup Why Brazil election could impact Neymar, Tite, World Cup

Emma Bowman

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