This week, FIFA took action against Mexico, as well as Argentina, Brazil, Chile, El Salvador, Honduras, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay, for "homophobic chants by supporters."
The chant in question is the roar of “Eeeh … puto!” when a goalkeeper takes a goal kick, and in the USA we’re most familiar with its use by Mexican fans. In the latest round of sanctions, the Mexican federation [FMF] was fined $32,000. Mexico was also among the nations fined by FIFA in January and May for “homophobic chants.”
The FMF launched an anti-discrimination campaign, “Abrazados por el Fútbol” (“Embraced by Soccer”) last March, but every attempt to urge fans from stopping the chant -- which is often muted by U.S. Spanish-language broadcasters -- seems only to prompt fans to yell it with more vigor.
During the Copa America Centenario, hosted by the USA last summer, The New York Times ran an article headlined “In Wake of Orlando Shootings, Mexican Soccer Chant Offends Many,” which wrote of the word:
"Puto,' roughly translated as ‘male prostitute,’ is a slur often hurled at gay men in Mexico, but fans who chant it say they use it out of the more generalized meaning of ‘coward’ (or, in the adjective form, simply an unpleasant thing).”
The Times article quoted Mexican Enrique Torre Molina, campaign manager at All Out, an international gay rights organization:
“The whole point is that the choice of this word is absolutely linked to a negative, homophobic meaning. ‘Puto’ is the word many gay men have been called in school or even by family members to mock us or put us down. ‘Puto’ is the word many gay men hear as they’re being beaten, sometimes to death, in the daily homophobic crimes committed in Latin America.”
Two years ago, I asked legendary Mexican striker and former El Tri coach Hugo Sanchez about the chant and he said, “They should use a different word.”
Current Mexico midfielder Jonathan dos Santos, after the latest fine, said, "Something has to be done about it,” but added it "has always been done without offending anyone."
Mexican writer and journalist Juan Villoro said, "It's a big deal because the chant is certainly an atrocity. It's not a chant Mexicans should be proud of; it is clearly homophobic."
Mexico News Daily, in covering the latest fines and sourcing La Afición Milenio, wrote: “Puto is Spanish for male prostitute and is a word that is also used also as a derisive term to describe homosexuals, cowards and traitors in some Latin American countries.”
I’ve spoken to many Mexican-American fans about it and find it interesting how emphatically they defend its use. Before the Mexico-Chile game at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, a fan who had flown to the game from San Diego, said, “It’s like our national anthem.” Other fans said it was a tradition they weren’t about to abandon and claimed the word isn’t anti-gay.
Now the FMF, which seemed to be trying to discourage the chant, announced it’s appealing the latest fine: “In the specific context, the chant is not discriminatory,” said Mexican federation secretary general Guillermo Cantu.
Monica Trasandes, the director of Spanish-language media at LGBT group GLAAD, told The Advocate, it is a "difficult subject for some people, who truly feel the chant is not meant in an offensive way in that context.
"Something we work hard to explain is that the intention of the user is not what’s most relevant, but the word’s history and its power. That word is used as an anti-gay slur every day in Mexico and Latin America, and so hearing a whole stadium full of people shout it is incredibly painful for many Latinx LGBTQ people and has to stop."
Now that the Mexican federation has gone back to defending the chant, FIFA must consider its next step. There is a precedent. It handed Chile a one-game ban from playing in its national stadium in Santiago for its fans' homophobic chants.