Sport geopolitics expert Jean-Baptiste Guégan explains why Neymar and many footballers are backing far-right Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro ahead of the first round of presidential elections scheduled for Sunday.
Jean-Baptiste Guegan, Neymar has once again expressed his support for Jair Bolsonaro ahead of Brazil’s presidential election. How do you explain it?
There is an opportunistic side to Neymar. We know that he is a conservative and has met with his representatives and Bolsonaro on the tax issue. Furthermore, when we talk about Neymar, we shouldn’t think of him as a footballer but as a millionaire abroad. He no longer lives in Brazil. It is one of the most popular categories in the country. In fact, he does not forget where he comes from, but looks at where he lives. He is one of the highest-income in Brazil. It will therefore go to those who go in his direction, fiscally and economically.
There’s another reason we tend to forget: Values. For us, football is first and foremost education, progressive values. In Brazil there is another dimension linked to the religious factor. There is evangelical conservatism. Neymar fits in there too. So does Lucas Moura. And what we see hollowly behind it is the question of education. We’re dealing with young footballers who don’t know the dictatorship, who haven’t necessarily received the level of education to understand the complexity of things. So there are many reasons that will come together and explain why many Brazilian athletes will vote for Bolsonaro.
This can make Jair Bolsonaro a little more popular….
Yes, especially since Bolsonaro is no longer in a winning position but rather in a challenger position against Lula. The question is whether he will be re-elected. For that he needs size supports. Neymar is an asset, but not the only one. Other Brazilian footballers have called for a continuity vote because they fear Lula for so many reasons. We are facing a polarization that we also find here. Very few footballers in France called to vote for the extreme right, but we also have footballers who called not to vote for the extreme left or the left in general. This is Bolsonaro’s last chance. He is way behind in the polls. Our Brazilian Trump has a keen interest in using the rare media support he has left.
Can we say that he uses the sport for electoral purposes?
At his first election he was the athletes’ nominee. That’s a little less true. He disappoints. Many Brazilian footballers and athletes who supported him now no longer support him or are keeping a low profile. We are faced with a less obvious situation. He is no longer the athlete candidate. He is no longer the candidate we saw kicking the ball on the field and who might appear closer to the field than the others.
Coming back to the Neymar case, would his situation with Bolsonaro be more advantageous from a tax point of view?
This is an important question in his choice. Lula’s tax case is treated differently. Today he is a tax evader. He would have to pay what he owes. With Bolsonaro, in exchange for public support, he knows full well that his debt is likely to be reduced. We are dealing with a rather bizarre mix of the Neymar family’s business, the player’s public and political support and a Bolsonaro clearly using the state for other purposes. Fortunately, other voices are being raised in France. Rai and Juninho’s. I don’t think we’ve ever invested Rai so much in the media in France, even if he’s less known and followed than Neymar. For once we have a real opposition. We didn’t have that in the previous election where Rai and Juninho were very alone and much less audible.