Welcome back to the Brazil Sports newsletter! This week, Brazilians flocking to watch Super Bowl LIV at the … movie theater? We also have the shameful history of the number 24 shirt in Brazilian football, and a long-standing intolerance showing signs of being toppled. Finally, a look ahead to the women’s national championship, in what is set to be a huge year for the female game in Brazil. Enjoy your read!
A night at the movies with Super Bowl LIV
On Sunday night, the Kansas City Chiefs ended a hoodoo of over five decades to win Super Bowl LIV in Miami, beating the San Francisco 49ers with a dramatic late comeback. The final was watched closely all over the world, but particularly in Brazil—one of the NFL’s most promising markets.
Game Night, but not as we know it. Besides the countless Super Bowl parties at homes and bars around the country, Brazil has developed another way to watch the big game: screening it live at movie theaters. For the last eight years, broadcaster ESPN and cinema chain Cinelive have teamed up to show the Super Bowl at over 100 cinemas across the country, in sold-out events that have helped drag in even more fans of American football in Brazil.
Still growing. Brazil is known worldwide as the country of football, a sport which has traditionally been so dominant that it hasn’t left room for much else to grow. Other outsider sports have traditionally included Formula 1, volleyball, basketball, and mixed martial arts, all sports in which Brazil has usually had a homegrown hero to cheer for. The growth of American football, therefore, is surprising, as Brazil has little to no representation within the NFL—unless you count New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, the husband of Brazilian supermodel Gisele Bündchen.
Nevertheless, support continues to grow. A study carried out by respected pollster Ibope with Brazilian sports fans online showed that 24 percent of respondents were “fans of American football.” While this is already a significant slice of the population, it is made even more impressive by the fact that this popularity has increased 50 percent since 2013.
NFL in Brazil? Since 2007, the NFL has held at least one regular-season game overseas. Initially in London—which hosted four matches in the 2019 season—and expanding to Mexico City in 2016, which now receives one game a year at the Estadio Azteca in Mexico City. As Brazil is the second-largest foreign market for the NFL behind Mexico, there have been talks over expanding the league’s “International Series” to the country, with São Paulo’s Arena Corinthians the most likely venue.
The redemption of the 24 shirt
In some countries, the number 13 shirt is avoided due to superstition. In Italy, the number 17 is seen as bringing bad luck. In German football squads, 12 is often left blank and assigned to the fans, each club’s “12th man.” Some numbers are retired in homage to former players: AC Milan have reserved their number 3 for a future member of the Maldini clan, retiring it after it belonged to Césare and then Paolo Maldini. Diego Maradona’s number 10 jersey at Napoli remains vacant, as does Johan Cruijff’s 14 at Ajax.
But why don’t any Brazilian footballers use the number 24?
24? Though hardly within the range of “desirable” shirt numbers for footballers, no Brazilian top-flight club began the 2019 season with a number 24 in their squad, while other shirts numbered between 20 and 30 were reasonably prevalent. Only in continental competitions—where teams are forced to number their squads from 1 to 30—will the 24 appear in Brazilian line-ups, almost always given to a foreign player.
But why? The explanation is fascinating, pathetic, and disgusting in equal measures, and requires some explanation of the jogo do bicho, the illegal “animal lottery” found in all Brazilian cities. The jogo do bicho consists of a daily draw in which the numbers 0 to 99 are grouped into 25 pools and assigned to different animals. The 24th animal in the lottery is the deer, corresponding to the numbers 93, 94, 95, and 96.
However, the Portuguese word for deer, veado, is a recurrent homophobic slur in Brazil, something approaching “faggot” in English, or “puto” in Spanish. The symbolic power of the jogo do bicho and the persistent homophobia in Brazilian society mean that footballers avoid the number 24 altogether.
Outrage. For decades, this has existed unchallenged in Brazilian football tradition. Everyone knows why their club has no number 24, and no-one mentions it. However, a recent gaffe from a major club executive has finally brought the childish and prejudiced practice to the surface.
No to 24. Earlier this month, upon unveiling Colombian midfielder Victor Cantillo as their new signing, Corinthians director of football Duílio Monteiro Alves announced that Cantillo would wear the number 8 shirt at the club, and not his preferred 24. “Twenty-four? Not here!” he declared, while laughing.
Ask for 24! The outrage from the Corinthians director’s declarations, along with the sudden death of Kobe Bryant—who famously wore the 24 jersey for the Los Angeles Lakers—led northeastern club Bahia to declare that midfielder Flávio would be using the 24 shirt from now on, as a protest against homophobia and to commemorate the death of the NBA legend.
Corinthians made an about turn, giving Victor Cantillo the 24 jersey, and other clubs joined the movement. Fluminense playmaker Nenê will also take the shirt for the club’s continental matches, and Flamengo’s star striker Gabriel Barbosa will wear it on a one-off basis in tonight’s state championship match against Resende.
The rise of women’s football
After a crucial year for women’s football in 2019, which saw the national team grab the attention of the viewing public and the country’s biggest clubs increase investment in women’s teams, the national championship kicks off this weekend in never-before-seen proportions, with the biggest number of professional women’s teams in Brazilian history.
Broadcasting. With the men’s game increasingly difficult to keep up with without subscription television plans, the women’s league will be entirely free to air, being shown on terrestrial network Band, live on Twitter, and on free streaming site MyCujoo. The idea is to capitalize on the apathy shown toward the men’s state championships and attract viewers to arguably more competitive football.
First round. As a symbol of the league’s importance, the first matchday will see Santos take on Flamengo at the club’s iconic Vila Belmiro stadium. While women’s matches largely take place at small grounds in far-flung countryside locations, having the opener at a major stadium is a huge plus. There will also be the first-ever Dérbi Paulista in the women’s national championships, as Palmeiras take on title favorites Corinthians on Sunday afternoon.
Progress. While setbacks do still occur—such as Atlético-MG’s decision to have its women’s team work as ballgirls for the men’s first team matches—the development of women’s football and the inclusion of women in the men’s game is improving dramatically. The #elasnoestádio (Women in the Stadium) movement—seeking to encourage women to go to more football matches, an environment traditionally viewed as overwhelmingly male—has picked up steam, and all of the country’s biggest clubs now have women’s only fan clubs, encouraging female supporters to be accompanied to matches where they may feel insecure about going by themselves.
Stay tuned. In an effort to give it the exposure it deserves, the Brazil Sports newsletter will keep up to date with all of the latest news and results in the women’s championship, beginning with a look back at this weekend’s first round.
What else you should know
State championships. Regional football raged on across Brazil last week. In São Paulo, Corinthians overcame Santos in the clássico with goals from Everaldo and Janderson, while Palmeiras were stunned 2-1 away from home to nouveau riche Red Bull Bragantino. In Rio, Fluminense grabbed a 1-0 win against Flamengo’s reserves in the Fla-Flu, while Botafogo overcame their rivals Vasco.
Transfers 1. We had two big signing stories last week, beginning with Flamengo finally managing to buy their hotshot striker Gabriel Barbosa on a permanent deal. Flamengo forked out EUR 17.45 million for the forward, previously on loan in Brazil from Inter Milan. While a hugely important player for the champions, one wonders how much—if any—financial return they will get from the deal. With the player 23 years old and Inter Milan having spent EUR 29.5 million to bring him over from Brazil in 2016, the Italians were no doubt delighted to get such a hefty fee for Gabigol. It is unlikely another European club will pay anywhere near this amount to sign him in the future.
Transfers 2. In other transfer news, former Japanese national team midfielder Keisuke Honda has made a surprise move to Rio de Janeiro side Botafogo. The 33-year-old has signed a one year contract with the first division club, who announced his arrival with this charming social media skit. Since leaving AC Milan in 2017, Honda has bounced around the footballing globe, playing in Mexico, Australia and most recently the Netherlands, where he got his start in European football.
Under 23s. In Colombia, Brazil’s under-23 side is disputing the South American Championships, the tournament that serves as qualification for the Olympic Games in Tokyo this year. While often overlooked as a competition, the South American Championships are taken very seriously by the nations involved, with a whole host of under 23 stars taking part. Brazil breezed through their group stage with a 100-percent record, but must now finish in the top two of a four-team final group in order to qualify for the Olympics. Today, they face hosts Colombia. We’ll have more on this exciting generation of Brazilians in next week’s newsletter.
Behind closed doors. 2019 in Brazilian football was marred by a number of incidents of violence between rival fan groups and a wave of requests from local prosecutors to hold matches without away supporters. For this year, however, Brazil’s sports justice court has suggested a new measure: whenever they receive a request to ban away fans from any match, they will order that the game be played completely behind closed doors. This was motivated by the match between Cruzeiro and Palmeiras at the end of last season, which ended in widespread violence and vandalism even without the presence of away fans. The atmosphere of games is affected greatly by both banning away fans and removing fans altogether, so there is some hope that this will lead to a reduction in requests and an increase in effective policing measures.
Doping in judo. Rafaela Silva, the first Brazilian judoka to become world and Olympic champion, now faces suspension from the Tokyo games later this year. The Rio 2016 gold medalist tested positive in an anti-doping exam during the Pan-American Games last year and has now been handed a two-year suspension from the sport. Rafaela tested positive for fenoterol, a banned substance traditionally used for anti-asthma medications. The judoka claims that she kissed a baby while meeting fans at the Pan American Games, and states she picked up the substance that way. Her defense is attempting to reduce her ban to six months, which would allow her to compete in Tokyo.