Brazilian Fans Against Bolsonaro

One year ago, Brazilian football supporters marched in defense of democracy and against Bolsonaro

Micael Zaramella – FLAF Americas

Since the beginning of the Covid 19 pandemic, the Brazilian government led by the far-right president Jair Bolsonaro has faced strong critics against his (lack of) strategy for guiding health politics. Successive crisis involving different health ministers, the individual position of the president defending suspicious remedies and treatments against the disease, and ambiguous statements about the vaccines, led to and impressive fall of Bolsonaro’s popularity, especially among the middle and lower classes, who saw its purchasing power and job opportunities decline.

During the months of March and April 2020, protests were organized from the windows and balconies in the main cities of Brazil (avoiding to occupy the streets in the pandemic context). The leak of internal meeting recordings of the administration and the resignation of ministers joined the rising pandemic scenario, leading the government to a crisis among the public opinion. By this time, Bolsonaro increased his speech attacks against the press, claiming that its exposures of the office crisis and critics against his lack of responsible conduction during the pandemic were acting against the Brazilian nation.

In the same context, pro Bolsonaro groups organized small marches supporting the president, and claiming that the Covid 19 pandemic was a lie, created to promote panic among the population and prejudice the government’s work. Beyond the conspiracy theory content of such manifestations, there was also the presence of traditional slogans of the Brazilian right, such as the defense of a militarized government, the fear of communism, and the attack on the press.

In this moment, different groups of football organized supporters (called in Brazil “torcidas organizadas”) started to organize themselves to occupy and dispute the streets against the presence of the far-right movements. On May 9th, a group of Corinthians supporters dissolved a demonstration in favor of military intervention in São Paulo. In the following weeks, similar actions occurred in other capitals such as Rio de Janeiro and Porto Alegre, also organized by supporters of different football clubs. A movement of football supporters against Bolsonaro’s flirtations with an institutional break during the Covid 19 pandemic started to rise from these initial actions against far-right manifestations.

In São Paulo, supporters of the rivals Palmeiras and Corinthians organized separate blocks to march together in the same protests. Danilo Pássaro, a member of the organized crew Gaviões da Fiel (the most popular ‘torcida organizada’ of Corinthians) coordinated the creation of a movement called “Somos Democracia” (“we are democracy”), formed by Gaviões da Fiel members and other Corinthians supporters. They were the protagonists of the organization of the marches, among the presence of other popular movements (such as the black movement), far-left parties and organizations.

The Palmeiras supporters, simultaneously, organized the Palestra Sinistro movement, which ambiguous name referred both to a left side political orientation and the disposition to direct confront against far-right and neofascist movements. The Palmeiras supporters also adhered to the marches with the presence of different left side crews, such as Palmeiras Antifascista and Porcomunas.

In other cities, supporters of opposite clubs also shared the streets in common marches against the Bolsonaro government, the far-right groups and their claims for an institutional break. In Porto Alegre, members of Inter Antifascista, an antifascist group of Internacional Club supporters, marched among the Grêmio Antifascista crew, their rivals on the pitch. In Belo Horizonte, Cruzeiro Antifa (antifascist crew of Cruzeiro supporters) and Resistência Alvinegra (crew formed by Atlético Mineiro supporters) also marched together in protests against Bolsonaro. In Rio de Janeiro, fans of the different clubs occupied the streets reunited around the Torcedores Pela Democracia (“football fans for democracy”) movement, which was formed in 2018 when Bolsonaro was still running for the presidency.

One year later, the impact of these self-organized attendances of football supporters to occupy the streets – confronting neofascist groups and protesting against the far-right politics of Bolsonaro’s government during the Covid 19 pandemic – remains as a remarkable experience of the connections between football and politics. The surprised impressions of the main channels of Brazilian media and press by that time, revealing a complete unfamiliarity to the strong political discussions that exists among football supporters, led to a new comprehension of these possible connections.

Simultaneously, the attendance of organized crews to other political and social claims never stopped to exist: during the pandemic, mutual aid initiatives revealed the connections between the supporters and crews with the black movement, the indigenous population, the occupation movements who fight for housing, and many other social topics. More than never, these initiatives compose a definitive call for the comprehension of football as a strong sociocultural expression, and also a domain of the political struggles that take part in other spheres of society.