Neymar is back in the Selecao squad after his injury. The fans who traveled to Qatar celebrate their star, but the superstar does not unleash a storm of jubilation among all Brazilians.
If you ask Brazilian fans traveling with you in Qatar about Neymar, you usually get the same answer: everyone loves Neymar. When the superstar is on the screen in the stadium, it gets loud. However, many Brazilian fans at home turn their noses up at Neymar. The star divides the fans. And that despite the fact that he is undoubtedly extremely important for the “Selecao” in terms of sport. Why is Neymar so unpopular with many Brazilians?
In addition to wishes for recovery after his ankle injury in the first World Cup game, there was also a lot of scorn and ridicule for the superstar on social media. “Argentinian fans worship Messi like a god. Portuguese fans treat Ronaldo like a king. Brazilian fans long for Neymar to break his leg”national team-mate Raphinha wrote on his Instagram story after Neymar’s injury in the opening game.
‘Neymar likes to show off what he’s got’, says the former Brazilian national player and current football commentator Walter Casagrande in an interview with the sports show. That doesn’t go down well with many Brazilians. The reality of life in Brazil is very different from what Neymar represents: “Brazil is a country with a lot of poverty. People don’t identify with him. Neymar doesn’t try to understand people or get closer to them.”
“An idol, but not approachable”
Many Brazilian fans find Neymar’s demeanor arrogant and his on-pitch behavior theatrical and disingenuous. He is accused of being more of a celebrity than a dedicated athlete. “Neymar is an idol, but not approachable”according to Casagrande.
“The bond with the Brazilian fans was already not good, but his public support for Bolsonaro made it worse.”according to Casagrande.
Neymar supports Bolsonaro
Brazil is politically divided: In the camp of the right-wing extremist incumbent President Jair Bolsonaro and his opponents.
During his presidency, Bolsonaro repeatedly shocked with misogynistic, homophobic, racist and discriminatory statements. He glorifies military rule, denies climate change, promotes deforestation in the Amazon and spoke out against vaccination during the pandemic.
“Bolsonaro is the right man to lead our Brazil”, said Neymar during the election campaign. With 49.1 percent to 50.9 percent of the votes, Bolsonaro lost to his challenger Lula da Silva in the runoff election at the end of October 2022.
Announced goal celebrations are missing
In a campaign live stream, Neymar hinted at dedicating his first World Cup goal to him. He wanted to integrate the 22 – Bolsonaro’s choice number – into his goal celebration. “Such a sign would further divide Brazil”, says Casagrande. The promised celebration didn’t materialize after his penalty goal against South Korea on Monday evening (05.12.22).
Nonetheless: ‘Even though Bolsonaro lost the election, Neymar said he would continue to support Bolsonaro’, says Casagrande. Explosive in particular because Bolsonaro questions the legality of the election and speaks of fraud without evidence.
Tax evasion and rape allegations
The sympathies between Neymar and Bolsonaro are mutual. In 2019, a Brazilian model accused Neymar of raping her in a Paris hotel. Bolsonaro defended the striker. Neymar’s case was dropped due to lack of evidence. Neymar later said Bolsonaro publicly stood by him at the most difficult moment of his life.
In 2015, Neymar was accused of not paying the equivalent of around €18m in taxes. Since then he has repeatedly made the headlines: he is accused of tax evasion, secret payments in his transfers and delaying the process. Bolsonaro is said to have supported Neymar and waived payments. There is speculation about a secret tax deal between him and the now-defunct president.
“A normal worker in Brazil pays taxes even though he has no money. How can it be that a rich person doesn’t want to pay his taxes?”asks Casagrande: “If Neymar has to pay a lot of taxes, it’s only because he earns so much.”
Neymar fans to Qatar
Bolsonaro and Neymar represent the elite. It is not surprising that fans who can afford to travel to Doha for the World Cup are not quite as critical of this elite. “Sport shouldn’t be political”says, for example, Brazil fan Eduardo in Doha.
Walter Casagrade sees it differently: “Sport, politics, society – it’s all connected. I’m Brazilian and I played at the 1986 World Cup. But I also fight for human rights. It’s shocking that Neymar doesn’t care about people and these important things.”