There are weeks when Jair Bolsonaro dominates the headlines in Brazil and there are weeks when that honour goes to Neymar. Both men have been in the news this week, which is understandable given the run-off election for president is on 30 October, and the World Cup kicks off in less than a month. One plays to the far-right galleries, spends a lot of his time on social media, and is frequently defending himself against accusations of corruption. The other is the president. Most outside of Brazil, though, would find it odd that the news cycle in the last few days has been about the two of them together.
Neymar is in the news not just for his starring performances with Paris Saint Germain. In Brazil, where he is loved and hated in equal measure, he is one of several Brazilian footballers throwing their weight behind the Bolsonaro as he attempts to come from behind and beat leftist challenger Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in next Sunday’s runoff election. (Lula won the first round by 48 per cent to Bolsonaro’s 43 per cent.)
The question of why Brazilian footballers back Bolsonaro has perplexed fans around the world ever since 2018, when he burst on to the political scene with his unapologetic mix of misogyny, racism and homophobia. Brazil is the home of the beautiful game, the cradle of Pelé, Zico, Marta and Ronaldo, the place where football transcended sport to become art. In just about every other field, with the possible exception of business, Brazil’s political, cultural and academic aristocracy are pulling together to prevent another four years of destruction. But not football.
Neymar’s support for the president might be personal. Just last week, Lula claimed the two men, with the help of Neymar’s father and agent, did a deal over tax relief.