Don’t drape yourself in my country’s flag during World Cup, then demand a military coup | Opinion

It’s hard to explain to foreigners what the soccer World Cup represents in Brazil.

Call it religion, a cult, a national obsession. When the national team is playing, businesses shut down, companies send their employees home early and children and teachers skip class. Streets are covered in green and yellow, Brazilian flags hang from balconies and soccer jerseys become the official attire of the nation.

Patriotism is not ingrained into Brazilian society as it is in America. But during the World Cup, everyone becomes a patriot, even those, like me, who don’t care about soccer. A Brazilian victory can unite a country that very seldom feels any national pride. A defeat, like the 7-1 beating Brazil took from Germany in 2014, becomes a moment of national mourning.

The 2022 World Cup feels different.

It happens on the heels of a divisive presidential election, as some supporters of ousted President Jair Bolsonaro are asking for a military intervention to reverse the results of a fair and democratic election.

Bolsonaro, known as the “Trump of the Tropics,” has co-opted the Brazilian flag, the green and yellow colors and the national team’s jersey as a symbol for his extreme, right-wing ideology.

His ardent supporters drape themselves in the flag, fake patriots whose goal is to dismantle Brazil’s young democracy and return it to an era of darkness and repression. All of that because their guy lost an election. Their version of patriotism doesn’t put country above self. It puts ego and a cult of personality above the wishes of the millions who last month elected former President Luis Inacio “Lula” da Silva to a third term.

I want nothing to do with this version of patriotism because it’s not about protecting the nation. It’s about ideological extremism.

Unfortunately, something as innocuous as a soccer jersey has come to represent that. I can no longer wear the Brazilian colors during the World Cup without being misidentified as a “Bolsonarista.”

It’s hard to feel any sense of national unity when too many of my fellow Brazilians are asking for the return of a military regime that took personal freedoms away and tortured and killed dissidents. They look hypocritical when they profess they don’t want Brazil to become another Venezuela. (I also recognize that not every Bolsonaro voter supports a military intervention and many want a return to normalcy.)

It makes me sad that I cannot sport the colors of my native country without feeling it’s a political statement.

Bolsonaro is not the first, or the last, politician to use patriotism to drive a wedge between citizens. In the United States, some conservatives have appropriated the flag, the national anthem and the Constitution. It’s as if only one side of the ideological spectrum could claim love for country. Suddenly, being a “liberal” or “progressive” is synonymous with being anti-American. I have been told so many times, “Go back to your country” because of my opinions.

It’s baffling when whose who claim such undying love for the flag also spread lies about the 2020 elections, and when they want to put people in elected office who might refuse to certify electoral results in the future. I’m relieved that voters in many parts of the country rejected election deniers running in this year’s midterm elections.

I believe very few people hate their country. The overwhelming majority want to make it better, even if they disagree on how to get there. I can believe someone’s ideas are wrong, or even harmful, without attacking them as unpatriotic. I don’t have to drape myself in the American, or Brazilian flag, to show that I love my adopted or native country.

When I watch Brazil’s second game on Dec. 2, I won’t have to wear a yellow-and-green jersey. I will celebrate the Brazilian national team because it’s my culture. Soccer is what brought my family together on Sundays. It’s part of some of my fondest memories growing up.

Bolsonaro can claim the Brazilian flag all he wants. He cannot take my country and the country of the millions who voted against him away.

Isadora Rangel is a member of the Miami Herald Editorial Board. This column originally ran in The Miami Debate, the free weekly Miami Herald Opinion newsletter. To subscribe, go to