It’s a stereotype that Brazilians are obsessed with soccer. Personally, I haven’t been too exposed to the national obsession with fútbol since I happen to be married to one of the few Brazilians who doesn’t really follow soccer. At least, not until the past few weeks.
It’s World Cup time.
I actually really enjoy the World Cup and it’s one of the few times that I pay attention to any kind of professional sport. Since neither Italy nor the United States made it into the game this year, I pretty much wrote it off because I didn’t have any of my usuals to cheer for. And then I learned that was impossible to do in Brazil.
It’s a level of fandom that is unparalleled in the US, even during the Super Bowl. On game day, the streets reflect yellow and blue since nearly everyone is wearing a team jersey. Shops, gyms, schools, and offices close down, not just for the game, but typically for at least half of the day. People make their way onto the street to watch with friends on big screen TVs with street food and BBQ all around.
In any WhatsApp group or conversation, it’s not a question of if you will watch the game, but where. All of my chats right now have been filled, all week, with questions of “Where are you going to watch?” “What are you going to do to after?” “Are you coming with us?” There’s no, “Eh, I’m not really interested.”
On the day of a game, the fireworks, horns, cheers, and screams begin well before the it starts. Around the corner from where we live is a street that gets blocked off for celebrations, so about two to three hours ahead of time, we see a steady stream of fans making their way past our balcony, yelling and laughing, old and young alike. Once the game starts, I don’t even have to keep the TV on to know when a goal was scored – I can tell by the volume of the voices and firecrackers.
The party, of course, continues well after the game. People stay in the street drinking, chatting, dancing, and, of course, shooting off more fireworks. It is a whole day festivity.
In general, Brazilians don’t tend to be very patriotic – or, at least, they don’t express their patriotism in the same way that Americans do. It’s pretty rare to see Brazilian flags on the regular outside of non-state or governmental buildings and, honestly, I’d never heard the national anthem until two weeks ago during the game between Brazil and Switzerland. These days, our streets are, literally, painted yellow and green, there’s flags on every building, and even our Crossfit box has yellow and green streamers hanging from the roof.
People love the sport, but clearly it’s more than that. With all of the political changes and struggles over the past century – or even half century – it seems like it’s been hard to be proud of what Brazil has accomplished. There’s so much frustration around the economy, taxes, corruption that everyday patriotism falls more into the dissent category: critiquing what’s not working, rather than extolling.
The soccer team is such a huge outlet for everyone. They’re talented and the whole world knows it. I remember walking into an American friend’s house not too long ago and seeing the Brazilian flag. Upon spying my quizzical look, she simply responded, “My dad likes soccer.”
It’s an opportunity for people to unite and feel like they’re part of something bigger. It’s an opportunity to be proud to show the world what you’re capable of, even if it’s not you on that soccer field yourself. It’s an opportunity to remind the world that Brazil is more than just a corrupt economy lost in South America, but a huge country with its own traditions and cultures that often get overlooked in the shadows of it’s problems.
So even if I’m not a fan, and I desperately want these games to be over so life can go back to normal, I am cheering for Brazil to win.