Brazil is widely regarded as the most football-obsessed nation on Earth, with football jerseys being a common sight no matter where you are in the country. Among the popular jersey numbers, such as 9, 10, and 11, associated with legendary players like Ronaldo, Pelé, and Romário, there is one number that is notably avoided – 24. This aversion stems from a historical connection to homosexuality dating back 130 years.
In 1892, the founder of Brazil’s first zoo, Baron João Batista Viana Drummond, devised a creative solution to address financial issues by introducing a lottery called “o jogo do bicho” (The Animal Game). Visitors to Rio de Janeiro‘s zoo received figurines representing 25 different animals, and each day, one animal was randomly selected by the staff. Individuals who possessed the figurine matching the chosen animal received a monetary prize.
The game gained tremendous popularity and quickly expanded beyond the zoo’s confines. Entrepreneurs began printing cards featuring the 25 animals and selling them. Although the practice was eventually banned just three years later, the lottery remains an enduring institution in Brazil.
The game card’s 24th square depicted a deer, referred to as “veado” in Brazilian Portuguese. However, in the Portuguese language, the term is used as a homophobic slur. Consequently, the number 24 became stigmatized and avoided in Brazilian society.
The aversion to the number 24 extends to various aspects of life, including football. Players are reluctant to don this number as they fear it may raise questions about their masculinity. Currently, only two players in the Brazilian elite leagues, Victor Cantillo from Corinthians and Luis Orejuela from Athletico Paranaense, both Colombians, wear the number 24.
An incident involving Cantillo sparked a significant controversy when he decided to retain the number 24, which he previously wore at his former club. Corinthians’ football director, Duilio Monteiro Alves, publicly stated, “Number 24 is not allowed here.” This statement triggered a strong response, leading some players, including Gabriel Barbosa, known as Gabigol and one of Brazil’s biggest football stars, to wear the number 24 for a single match.
The LGBTQ rights group Arco-Íris recently filed a lawsuit against Flamengo for excluding the number 24 from their team’s lineup in the under-20 cup held in São Paulo. However, the case was dismissed, as the prosecution deemed it challenging to prove a “discriminatory motive.” In another instance, a player from a different team participating in the tournament, Júrandir from América Mineiro, wore the number 24 and faced homophobic chants.
Even when Copa America allowed teams to register 28 players last year, Brazil intentionally refrained from assigning the number 24 to any player. The Brazilian Football Confederation cited “sporting reasons” as the basis for this decision.
In contrast, in women’s football, nearly every team features the number 24 without hesitation.