Why are Jamaicans crazy about Brazilian football?

Football image via Canva Pro.

In Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano's classic, elegant history of the World Cup, “Soccer in Sun and Shadow,” he says, “[I]n the stadiums I plead: ‘A pretty move, for the love of God.’ And when good soccer happens, I give thanks for the miracle and I don't give a damn which team or country performs it.” While Jamaicans do like pretty moves, they prefer them to be performed by a particular team: Brazil.

To many Jamaicans, the World Cup doesn’t start until Brazil enters the fray. In Kingston, the island’s capital, traffic quietened and even newsrooms were hushed as Brazil made its 2022 debut, playing against Serbia on November 24.

Anticipation for the World Cup began to build a week or two ahead, with street vendors selling flags representing the various participating countries. They always make sure they have a good stock of Brazil flags (as well as Argentina, which is the runner-up among Jamaicans’ favourite teams). These flags are usually affixed to the front windows of cars, fluttering proudly in the breeze. Some vehicles have even been seen sporting two different flags.

In many communities, the “Brazil effect” is palpable. One Jamaican journalist observed:

He added jokingly:

Whether at work or play, the World Cup in general is making an impact. In a Gleaner article, the president of Jamaica’s Human Resources Association weighed in on the dilemma of whether to give employees time off to enjoy “the beautiful game,” adding that World Cup trivia games can provide “a little fun at work”:

Let them know you care, and this will boost long-term engagement from the employees even if productivity may dip somewhat.

One fan tweeted:

One Brazil fan took his passion to work with him:

In inner-city Kingston, residents of Trench Town and surrounding areas forgot their troubles and staged an impromptu victory parade down Collie Smith Drive after Brazil’s win, prompting one tweet:

Brazil even entered the dancehall space:

Comedian Julie Mango’s take on the World Cup and Brazil was a skit with a heated discussion among patrons (one rather tipsy) at the local bar:

Indeed, in neighbourhood bars, passions were rising as the game began:

On Twitter, some Jamaicans made their loyalties perfectly clear:

Cultural commentator Wayne Chen rhapsodised over the second Brazil goal, and made a prediction:

Where did this devotion to Brazil originate from? Is it the similarity in the colours of the two countries’ flags, the flamboyant style of play, or the presence of so many players of colour during an era when much of football was white? Economist Wesley Hughes opined:

“Brazil fever” appears to have started during that era:

And one very special Brazilian star lit a spark that, apparently, has never gone out:

Pelé and his club Santos visited Jamaica in 1971, one year after they emphatically won the 1970 World Cup, helping Jamaica's Brazil passion take root. Edson Arantes do Nascimento received the Keys of the City of Kingston from Mayor Emerson Barrett before the start of a match between Santos and Cavalier Football Club. There is no historical video footage of the occasion, unfortunately, but four years later, Pelé returned to Jamaica, playing with the New York Cosmos.

Since then, other Brazil/Jamaica friendlies have taken place, but many Jamaican sports commentators still contend that Pele is the greatest footballer of all time.

Incidentally, Bob Marley (a fervent football fan and player) was a huge Brazil fan and regularly wore Brazil jerseys. His tour manager in the 1970s was Alan “Skill” Cole, a highly-rated Jamaican footballer who played for the Brazilian team Nautico for a short time. Marley himself even played a match in Rio de Janeiro, at musician Chico Buarque’s private football pitch.

One Jamaican even credited the World Cup — as opposed to Jamaica's current States of Public Emergency — with a drop in violent crime:

During a heated parliamentary debate in which an extension of these anti-crime measures was rejected by his party, one opposition senator concurred. He referenced statistics which showed that during the 2018 FIFA World Cup, held between June 14 and July 15, Jamaica recorded 52 fewer murders and 66 fewer shootings when compared to the corresponding period in 2017. For the 2014 FIFA World Cup, staged between June 12 and July 13, Jamaica reportedly had 87 murders, compared to 116 in 2013.

The love of Brazil is so great that one Jamaican mused:

Since Jamaica’s men's team has only qualified for the World Cup once, in 1998, it may be fair to say that Brazil is Jamaica’s de facto team. Simply put:

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