Among the 10 South American teams that competed in the Copa America 2021, Brazil is the only one that does not have a player wearing the number 24 jersey in its squad, despite having 24 registered athletes. The option not to adopt the number historically associated in a pejorative way with homosexuality, highlighted for the first time by UOL, raised criticism from LGBTQIA+ collectives and motivated a lawsuit in Rio de Janeiro, which forced the Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF) to justify the absence of the 24 by a “sports decision”. In the view of Marianna Rodrigues, Grêmio supporter and LGBTQIA+ militant of the tricolor collective Tribuna 77, the choice of CBF “feeds violence and reinforces the history that football is a place only for straight men”.
The rule in competitions of teams endorsed by FIFA, such as the Copa America, is that each country can register up to 23 players. The limit is what prevented, in previous situations, the discussion of shirt 24 from reaching the Brazilian team, since the numbers ranged from 1 to 23. But, due to the covid-19 pandemic, the number was increased to 28 in this edition of the tournament, which allowed players to use up to number 28. In the case of Brazil, 24 athletes were selected who follow the exact order of numbers from 1 (Alisson) to 23 (Ederson). But Douglas Luiz, who is the 24th player in numerical order, wears the 25 shirt. “The numbering used by the athletes is related to sporting issues only. for this player [Douglas Luiz], due to its position (midfield) and for mere liberality, the number 25 was chosen. How could it have been 24, 26, 27 or 28″, justified the CBF in a lawsuit filed in the Rio de Janeiro Court that requested explanations to the entity. After the explanation, the court closed the case. O Rainbow Group of LGBT Citizenship, however, who had filed the petition in the Rio de Janeiro court, did not buy the justification and called FIFA for more charges to be made to CBF.
The logic adopted by CBF is not repeated in the other selections. In Argentina, the Brazilians’ rivals in the final, the shirt 24 is worn by Papu Gomez, one of the strikers who, despite not being a regular starter, is an important part of Lionel Scaloni’s team. The choice does not mean that the other teams fight LGBTphobia — the Argentine Federation has even been fined by FIFA for homophobia practiced by its national team’s fans. However, Brazil is the only country on the continent where the number 24 is directly associated with gays for referring to the deer animal in the Jogo do Bicho.
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“The number 24 is a familiar joke in Brazilian football, and a symbol of gay intolerance. It is very bad for the team to reproduce this behavior at this stage of the championship”, says Rodrigues. The 28-year-old Grêmio fan is part of Tribuna 77, a tricolor movement in Porto Alegre that raises banners for various social causes, such as the fight against homophobia, racism and fascism. “I don’t think it’s necessary to force the player to use the 24, but removing it from the logical order among athletes is a homophobic action and, in addition, a childishness”, confirms Rafael Lucas, 25, Vascaíno and founder of the fans Vasco LGBTQ+.
It wasn’t clear whether Douglas Luiz chose not to use the 24 or if the CBF didn’t offer it to the player ―who publicly never spoke about it ―, but the fact that Douglas started his career at Vasco brought Lucas closer to the case. “Even if it was an involuntary decision, the courage to break the taboo was lacking. The football environment is very homophobic, so the players are also a reflection of that”, pointed out the vascaíno. Marianna Rodrigues also questions the CBF’s response, which she considers “a bullshit”. “Being involuntary does not make the position justifiable. Once you know the homophobic reality in the country and do not actively take a stand against it, you contribute to its continuing. The Brazilian team indirectly contributes to prejudice”, she says. At the Euro Cup, which takes place simultaneously with the Copa America, contrary examples were seen, such as players from the German and English teams wearing rainbow-colored captain’s sashes in protest against homophobia.
Brazilian clubs take a stand against homophobia on LGBTQIA+ Pride Day
The 28th of June, marked as being the International Pride Day of LGBTQIA+, had 18 of the 20 clubs from the series A of Brasileirão taking a stand against homophobia on social networks. Some were limited to posting messages in the color of the rainbow, while others took more concrete actions: Fluminense gave the jersey 24 to defender Nino, one of the highlights of the team, who wore it in a championship match — an act similar to that of Gabigol , who is on the Brazilian team, has already done it at Flamengo. Vasco launched a special edition of its uniform, changing the traditional black belt for a rainbow belt, and used it in the victory against Brusque. In the game, top scorer Germán Cano scored a goal and went to the corner flag, which was also in the colors of the rainbow, and raised it in celebration. “It was something of the moment and that makes it more beautiful. When I scored the goal, I wanted to run to it, take it off and lift it, giving a message of respect, peace and love”, said the Argentine forward.
Rafael Lucas and his collective actively participated in the Vasco campaign, being models of the uniform and choosing the institution to which the amount collected from the sale of the shirts was destined. Lucas created the collective a year ago, together with his friend Beatriz, “so that all LGBT Vasco fans can feel welcomed into our fans, so that Vasco can be a more inclusive environment”. “I have a fiance, we were going to São Januário [antes da pandemia] but showing no affection. It was like we were two brothers,” he says. “So I still wouldn’t be comfortable going to the stadium and marking a place for gays in the stands with a flag, for example. But I’m very proud of this pioneering spirit. It’s far from perfect, you don’t have to position yourself only on commemorative dates, but everything is a process”, emphasizes the fan.
On the same date, the goalkeeper from Vasco Halls asked to wear the shirt 24 at the club. “Many people felt embarrassed about using the 24, and we’ve been breaking the taboos. Today I feel honored, even for helping in a very beautiful cause”, said the 22-year-old goalkeeper. At Grêmio, goalkeeper Brenno, who became the darling of the crowd by taking the title and being called up for the Brazilian Olympic team, also uses the 24. The advance is clear with the reminder that, last year, the Corinthians director (today president), Duílio Monteiro Alves, denied Colombian player Victor Cantillo’s request to use the symbol number. “Not 24 here”, said the Corinthians fan as he handed Cantillo the number 8 shirt. The negative repercussion ended with an apology from the manager and with the steering wheel taking the 24th. “The clubs are showing progress. It is positive to be able to popularize this theme in a context where it is not talked about. It just needs to happen beyond the dates, go beyond the market policy around diversity”, concludes Marianna Rodrigues.
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