Mexico’s soccer federation has been sanctioned repeatedly by world governing body FIFA for a homophobic chant used by its fans during Mexican national team games.
In the latest punishment dished out by FIFA, the team will be forced to play two of its 2022 home World Cup qualifiers without fans.
What is the homophobic chant?
In a practice believed to have started among fans in the early 2000s, Mexican national team fans join in unison to shout a Spanish-language homophobic slur (“p—,” which roughly translates to “gay prostitute”) when an opposing goalkeeper puts the ball into play on a goal kick. The chant is supposedly meant to intimidate the ‘keeper and the opposing team.
The argument for years was that the word has multiple cultural meanings in Mexico and other Spanish-speaking countries and that it is not intended as a homophobic slur when used by fans in a stadium. But there’s no getting around the fact that it’s a derogatory term that’s demeaning to the gay community. FIFA and anti-discrimination groups have made that much clear and the Mexican soccer federation (FMF) has also recognized it and is taking action.
“It’s not the intention with which you shout or with which you chant. It’s how the other [people] receive it,” Mexican federation president Yon de Luisa told media in 2021. “If anybody feels it’s a discriminatory act, then it is not something that we should include in a conversation. That is no longer a debate. If it is discriminatory, we should avoid it.”
In conjunction with soccer authorities and match organizers, the FMF is working to eradicate the chant from its matches with the knowledge that failure to do so could result in escalating punishment from FIFA.
The world body has made it clear that it will be cracking down on racism and homophobia in the game around the world — Hungary was fined for a homophobic chant directed at Cristiano Ronaldo in 2017 — and the teams of offending fans will pay the consequences for their supporters’ discriminatory behavior.
What is Mexico doing about the homophobic chant?
The Mexican soccer federation is now pulling out all the stops in an effort to stamp out the chant, although officials didn’t acknowledge it was a discriminatory chant until a few years ago.
The FMF has implemented an anti-discrimination campaign directly targeting the chant and urging fans to refrain from using it. They have worked with match organizers on public address announcements and video board messaging, warning offending fans they will be ejected from the stadium if they’re caught.
In addition, match organizers are required to implement a new three-step protocol introduced by FIFA in 2019 for any discriminatory incidents:
- Step 1: Match stoppage and warning to fans
- Step 2: Match suspension and players moved to locker room
- Step 3: Abandonment of the match
In the brief time since the new measures have been adopted, they’ve begun to have some effect, but in some cities and stadiums fans still haven’t complied. It is likely to take more time for the chant to be completely eradicated, but the Mexican federation will hope it doesn’t come at the expense of competitive point deductions or even expulsion from official tournaments like the World Cup, a scenario that Mexican officials believe is a real risk should the problem persist.
FIFA sanctions for homophobic chants
The chant has been used by fans at Mexican club and national team games since the early 2000s, but it gained worldwide notoriety during the 2014 World Cup. Despite growing condemnation, it returned four years later at the 2018 FIFA World Cup during Mexico’s surprise win over Germany.
The Mexican federation has been disciplined on multiple occasions by FIFA since 2015, so many times that it’s difficult to keep count. The Los Angeles Times reports that the Mexican federation was fined nine times alone in the lead-up to the 2018 World Cup, in addition to 15 other national federations that were sanctioned for similar fan behavior.
But the punishments are escalating. In June 2021, FIFA sanctioned the Mexican federation for homophobic chants by Mexican fans at Olympic qualifiers played in Guadalajara, Mexico, in March 2021: a $65,000 fine and two official home matches played behind closed doors. According to a FIFA statement to ESPN, the sanctions apply to any official Mexican national team matches, regardless of the team or age group.
The FIFA Disciplinary Committee also opened separate proceedings against Mexico in connection with homophobic chants by fans at a friendly against Iceland played in Arlington, Texas, in May 2021. Punishment related to that incident is still forthcoming. And it remains to be seen whether any action will be taken for the chants during Mexico’s participation in the CONCACAF Nations League semifinals and final in June 2021.
“I want to remind you of the disciplinary measures that FIFA is contemplating,” de Luisa told media after FIFA’s announcement of the two-match fan ban. “It starts with fines, playing one or two games behind closed doors — which is what we’re concerned with today along with the fine — deduction of points, losing matches and exclusion from a competition or tournament. And relegation as far as clubs are concerned. That’s the situation today.”
There were indications that the heavy FIFA punishment may have helped change fan behavior when exhibition matches played by Mexico’s senior national team on June 12, June 30 and July 3 unfolded without incident, but the chant reappeared during Mexico’s opening 2021 CONCACAF Gold Cup group match against Trinidad & Tobago in Dallas, resulting in a stoppage in play as per the protocol, and a stern warning by CONCACAF to fans.
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