SAO PAULO — Shortly after casting his ballot in Brazil’s presidential election in Rio de Janeiro on Sunday, incumbent President Jair Bolsonaro hoisted a silver trophy into the air alongside the newly crowned soccer champions.
The far-right leader posed for the cameras and took selfies with players from local team Flamengo. On Saturday night, the team won the Copa Libertadores, the most prestigious club football tournament in South America. Flamengo are the most popular club in Brazil and won 1-0 against Athletico, from the state of Parana.
“Champion of Brazil! Brazil VICTORIOUS! Fabio Wajngarten, one of the president’s campaign coordinators, wrote on Twitter when sharing the video. “The Brazil of Pr. Jair Bolsonaro!”
Bolsonaro also had lunch with some of Flamengo’s players, before returning to the Brazilian capital to watch the election results.
It was Bolsonaro’s latest display basking in mirrored glory of football teams and a highly visible pit stop on election day, amid an uphill battle against former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva to secure a second term. Footballers’ involvement in campaigns can divide fans, especially those embarrassed by cheeky political positioning.
Bolsonaro – who resided in Rio after growing up in Sao Paulo state – was known as a fan of Sao Paulo-based Palmeiras and Botafogo in Rio. That changed after his election in 2018.
The president regularly attends matches, as da Silva did during his tenure. In a country where die-hard football fans would never dream of wearing another team’s shirt, Bolsonaro showed no qualms about wearing dozens of different top division team shirts. The one big exception is Sao Paulo FC, one of Palmeiras’ main rivals. Da Silva, a Corinthians fan, rarely wears another team’s shirt.
Bolsonaro has often shown his favor for Flamengo, whose directors are outspoken thrusters. Ahead of his meeting on Sunday, several Flamengo players filmed themselves on their team bus to show their support for the incumbent by flashing “22” – the number Brazilians must enter on electronic voting machines to vote in its place.
Brazilian footballers are generally not outspoken about politics. Most of those who have taken a public stand support Bolsonaro.
This includes star striker Neymar and defender Thiago Silva, who are both set to join the country’s squad for the World Cup in Qatar. Former footballers Romário, Ronaldinho and Rivaldo, as well as former national team coach Luiz Felipe Scolari, have also backed Bolsonaro.
Brazil coach Tite said in an interview with The Associated Press earlier this month that he would not travel to Brasilia to meet the president regardless of the team’s Cup finish of the world. Tite will leave his position after the tournament.
The Brazilian national team’s canary yellow jersey has been used as an anti-leftist symbol for nearly a decade; Bolsonaro and his supporters wear them regularly at rallies.
Neymar, an evangelical Christian who has said he shares the president’s conservative values, is by far Bolsonaro’s most prominent supporter in the sacred universe of Brazilian football. He campaigned for president on his popular social media channels and posted videos of himself dancing while displaying the “22”.
Video of Sunday’s encounter with Flamengo released by the president’s allies does not show the team’s best players, including strikers Gabriel Barbosa and Pedro. Midfielder Everton Ribeiro, a contender for a spot in the World Cup squad, has previously expressed his opposition to Bolsonaro and his policies.
Flamengo delayed their celebratory parade due to the election, in light of a request from the national electoral authority.