By Gabriel Vogas
For those who still picture Brazil as stereotyped as The Simpsons did back in 2002, with life being an endless Carnival, it may be shocking to know how conservative Brazilian society can be. Well, for those who have dig a little deeper and know what kind of president was elected in 2018, this is no surprise at all.
With that being said, as it is the case in most countries around the world, Brazilian football has always being rooted in an extremely homophobic culture up to the point that a LGBTQIA+ group entered a petition in the judiciary to officially demand explanation from CBF, the Brazilian Confederation, about why Brazil was the only squad to skip a number in Copa América 2021, that number being 24.
Wait. But why is 24 a taboo number in Brazil and what is its relation to homophobia? This is a really prosaic tale about Brazilian culture and street language and that’s what this post is all about.
Once upon a time, in late 19th century, there was a private zoo in Rio facing financial difficulties. The creative solution to this problem was a lottery with 25 animal-based groups of four numbers each, named “Jogo do Bicho” (in a free translation, the “Animal Game”). And what was the animal in group number 24? The deer.
The private zoo went bankrupt few years later, but the game was so successful that it was taken by Brazilian outlaws and exists all over the country until this day. What was the relation about the deer and homophobia? That’s because the Portuguese word for deer, ‘veado’, is a pejorative way to call a gay man. So, 24, the number of the deer, is also a slang word to say someone is gay: “He is 24”.
Even Bambi, the name of that lovely and innocent Disney character, became pejorative for that same purpose. In football, ‘Bambi’ is commonly used by the rivals of São Paulo to call their supporters (in a common association all over Brazil that team’s from the upper class are fancy and, therefore, their supporters are gay).
I get that this may seem minimal for outsiders, but in a society that is, unfortunately, so homophobic as Brazilian (especially among old school football fans), number 24 has become forbidden in many clubs, to the point that Corinthians’ officials firstly denying the number to Colombian Victor Cantillo in 2020, who used it in Colombia before: “Twenty-four, here, no,” said Duílio Monteiro Alves, football director of the club at the time (the bad reaction made Corinthians change its mind).
When competitions regulations stipulated its use, as in Copa Libertadores, it is common to assign it to youth players or back-up goalkeepers with few chances of being fielded. Rio de Janeiro side Flamengo is a good example of this. In their last five Libertadores’ squads, the players listed as 24 were:
- 2018: Thiago Rodrigues (22 years), third GK after Diego Alves (#1) and César (#12);
- 2019: Thiago Rodrigues (23 years), forth GK after Diego Alves (#1), César (#12) and Gabriel Batista (22);
- 2020: Hugo Souza (21 years), forth GK after Diego Alves (#1), César (#12) and Gabriel Batista (#22);
- 2021: Diegão (19 years), defender from the U20 squad;
- 2022: Kauã, GK from the U20 squad.
With Fifa confirming that 26-man squads will be allowed at the next World Cup, we may see the Brazilian national team list a number 24 player for the first time. If it will be a player with a low probability of being fielded, it is up to be seen.
To be fair to Brazilian society, I don’t think Brazil is particularly more homophobic than our Latin American neighbors. But I am not saying this in a proudly way for my country: I just think the situation there is as bad as ours. If every other team in Copa América 2022 listed a player with the number 24, is just because the association of the number with gays does not exist in their culture.
But, to end with a positive perspective, things are changing. Brazilian clubs took some good steps towards fighting against homophobia and transphobia in the past years, with some clubs adding thematic features to their uniforms – traditional Libertadores winning side Vasco da Gama, even though in Série B, giving the most positive highlights with this brilliant gesture from Argentinian striker German Cano in his goal celebration in 2021. Some players, such as Bahia’s midfielder Flávio and Fluminense’s midfielder Nenê in 2020, have already proudly worn number 24 in their clubs’ campaign against homophobia.
We are far behind many other countries, and changes are slower than they should, but better late than never.