The Nike brand, the distributor who holds the rights to sell the official green-gold national team shirts in Brazil for the FIFA World Cup, does not allow more customers to order personalized shirts with the names of Jesus printed on the back. A very common name in these parts, just think of the famous striker Gabriel Jesus, who is expected to start in the Seleção next Thursday against Serbia in the first match of the World Cup in Qatar. Also prohibited are “Christ” and other Christian terms.
To avoid “any religious discrimination”
The decision was taken after the federal public ministry of the samba country, even the attorney general’s office, intervened with the ban to avoid “any religious discrimination”. At the root of the judicial ban was a protest by adherents of the Nigerian Lucumí Yoruba faith – known in the Spanish-speaking world as santería but commonly called candomblé in Brazil – who had complained precisely to the Attorney General of the fact that the Nike website did not allow them to personalize their World Cup jerseys with the names of their deities, the orixás. Xangô or Exu were not available for customization, while “Jesus” and “Christ”, at least until last Tuesday, were. Now I’m not anymore.
Fisia, the company that distributes Nike T-shirts in Brazil, has in fact communicated that it has added “Jesus” and “Christ” to its list of prohibited personalization terms since last Wednesday, after the ban imposed by the green-gold justice. Nike did the same on its website. However, other religious terms remain, such as the many spellings of Muhammad/Mohammed, “Allah” and the Hindu god “Ganesh”. We’ll see if Nike takes steps to ban these names as well despite Muhammad, like Jesus, being a common name in many parts of the world, including Latin America.
The protests in Brazil and the bans on Nike
The ban on Christian names on shirts has aroused the indignation of some political leaders, in particular the son of the outgoing president, the parliamentarian Eduardo Bolsonaro, who accused Nike of “Christophobia”. An own goal by the brand given that adding Catholics, Evangelicals and neo-Pentecostals together, almost 90 percent of the Brazilian population identifies as “Christian”, while only 2.2 percent identifies exclusively as “espirita”, or faithful of Candomblé.
Nike is no stranger to controversial bans on Seleção shirts. Already months ago, in the midst of the electoral campaign, he had banned personalization with the names of Bolsonaro and Lula. Furthermore, since last July, Brazilians can no longer write behind the shirt that Neymar and Co. will wear from Thursday at the World Cup in Qatar, not even the words “Mito”, the nickname of Bolsonaro and “PT”, the acronym of the Workers’ Party by Lula.
Lula’s fans and those of Bolsonaro
A controversy that has grown a lot this year, given that the shirts of the Brazilian national football team have become a sort of unofficial uniform for Bolsonaro supporters during his rallies and, subsequently, during the protests against his defeat in the elections on October 30 which, however, continue. The supporters of the “Mito” have in fact embraced the yellow and green colors of the flag in contrast with the official red color of the Socialist Workers’ Party (PT), founded by newly elected president Lula.
A connection, the one between the sports uniform and Bolsonaro’s fans, strengthened on the eve of the vote also by‘support declared to the outgoing president by Neymar, the most popular football star in Brazil today. Neymar who, for the record, broke up with Nike last year, which had sponsored him since the age of 13 when he was not yet a professional player in Brazil nor a star in Europe, and who has since moved on to German Puma.
But in Brazil they are already organized
To clarify its position, which is rather incomprehensible to the eyes of the average Brazilian, Nike recalled that “it does not allow the customization” of its products “with words that may contain religious, political, racist or offensive language”. Of course, however, all this triumph of political correctness in a country by definition free and anarchic like Brazil will be useless. Indeed, as a reaction, the forged T-shirts with the names banned by Nike are already swarming, obviously with Jesus and Christ on the head.