RIO DE JANEIRO – It’s probably the most recognizable soccer jersey out there: the canary yellow with light green details. Brazil has worn it in all of their record five World Cup titles. But at home, the national colors have been steeped in controversy since far-right President Jair Bolsonaro adopted them as an emblem of his brand of nationalist politics.

Bolsonaristsas the president’s supporters are called, they wear the shirts and wrap themselves in the Brazilian flag at marches and rallies to support his conservative religion, Messages against LGBTQ and gun rights.

Bolsonaro downplayed the coronavirus pandemic and oversaw a devastating COVID-19 death toll. It cut through the Amazon shelter, leading to record deforestation. And he has sought to challenge the election results after electoral authorities last month declared victory for his rival, President-elect Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.

In Brazil, the yellow shirt has become the equivalent of the red MAGA hat worn by supporters of Bolsonaro’s ally, former President Donald Trump.

Soccer fan Vanessa Morales says she just can’t wear the Seleção shirt at this year’s World Cup.

“I will wear neither green nor yellow,” she says, not wanting to be confused with Bolsonaro’s supporters. She will wear the red and black jersey of her local team Flamengo instead. “It is difficult that a [political] Party ended up dominating our t-shirt.”

But she hopes that when Lula takes office in January, more Brazilians will start wearing the national football shirt again.

Reclaim the yellow

A supporter of Brazilian President-elect Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva wears a shirt with campaign stickers during the run-off election in Rio de Janeiro October 30.

A supporter of Brazilian President-elect Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva wears a shirt with campaign stickers during the run-off election in Rio de Janeiro October 30.

Supporters of President-elect Lula have sold their own version of the national jersey in the bright yellow and green colors. It has a small picture of Lula on the front and 13 – his candidate number – on the back.

Salesman Renato Monteiro says he has sold 20,000 of the shirts to Lula voters in the past two months.

“They buy it because Bolsonaro thought the symbol belonged to him, but in fact it wasn’t his, it belonged to the people. We saved the symbol of our homeland,” he says from his small stall at a weekend outdoor market in Rio de Janeiro.

Brazil’s football federation, CBF, is politically neutral but launched a campaign to encourage citizens to rally around the shirt and the team. And one of the country’s biggest beer companies, Brahma, is urging Brazilians to wear it during the World Cup.

Ronaldo of Brazil celebrates scoring the winning goal during the 2002 FIFA World Cup semi-final match against Turkey held June 26, 2002 at Saitama Stadium in Japan.  Brazil won the game 1-0.

/Alex Livesey/Getty Images

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Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Ronaldo of Brazil celebrates scoring the winning goal during the 2002 FIFA World Cup semi-final match against Turkey held June 26, 2002 at Saitama Stadium in Japan. Brazil won the game 1-0.

In a country where football is practically a religion, there may come a moment when Brazilians forget what separates them and unite under one color, yellow.

Thursday is their first opportunity at the 2022 World Cup – when Brazil play Serbia at 2pm EST (4pm Brasília time) in Doha.

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