What It Will Take for FIFA to Stop Mexican Fans’ Homophobic Chants

Mexican players celebrate victory over Germany during the World Cup.
Mexican players celebrate their 1–0 victory at the end of the Russia 2018 World Cup Group F football match between Germany and Mexico at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow on Sunday. ANTONIN THUILLIER/Getty Images

Mexico’s stunning 1–0 win over Germany was one of the best moments of the World Cup so far. El Tri’s jubilation, however, has been marred by a familiar, self-inflicted wound. According to ESPN, “FIFA has opened disciplinary proceedings against Mexico after alleged anti-gay chants by fans.”

The chant in question is Mexican fans’ infamous incantation of puto. When an opposing goalkeeper prepares to take a goal kick, a shout slowly builds until the kick is taken, at which point the crowd screams the word in unison. The chant could be heard clearly during Sunday’s television broadcast when Germany’s Manuel Neuer put the ball in play.

Juliana Jiménez Jaramillo wrote about the chant for Slate in 2014, calling it a “clear, if somewhat semantically sophisticated, anti-gay slur.” She continues:

Fans yell puto, which roughly means gay prostitute, at the opposing team’s goalkeeper as a tactic to distract him from his task, a common enough practice in all sports. In this case, the chant is a very specific, homophobic double-entendre, playing on the concept of letting someone “score a goal on you.” In Spanish, to score a goal is meter un gol. That translates literally as to put a goal in, so when a goalie fails at his job, he dejó que se la metieran, or allowed someone to stick it in.

This isn’t the first time FIFA has confronted the Mexican Football Federation and the team’s fans over the chant. The post from which the above explanation is excerpted was written after FIFA investigated and dropped a previous charge of misconduct after a match against Cameroon during the 2014 World Cup. FIFA didn’t punish Mexico because, according to an explanation provided by the organization, the chant “was not considered insulting in the specific context.”

Will this most recent incident and its “context” yield a different response from FIFA? Mexico was fined 11 times during World Cup qualifying because of repeated occurrences of the chant (El Tri was one of seven teams to be fined for violating FIFA’s anti-discrimination policy), and so FIFA cannot exactly claim ignorance as to its meaning or intent.

Neither can the Mexican federation, which produced a video in 2016 in which star players asked fans to “embrace diversity.”

Before the World Cup began, the federation tweeted a link to the tournament’s code-of-conduct page as a reminder.

(According to the Guardian, “Many roundly mocked the request with gifs and defiant one-liners.”)

Mexico, though, hasn’t exactly endorsed FIFA’s view that it’s in the wrong for failing to stamp out the chant. The federation successfully appealed two of its 11 fines to the Court of Arbitration for Sport; CAS ruled that while “[the chant] could still be considered discriminatory or insulting in nature and should not be tolerated in football stadiums,” FIFA received some blame because it had fostered the “wrong—but legitimate—understanding” that there would be no punishment for the chanting after its failure to act in 2014. (The remaining nine fines totaled about $100,700.)

In preparation for those appeals, the Mexico federation general secretary, Guillermo Cantu, said in a statement that it would “fight the sanction because we don’t agree with the connotation that FIFA has given the chant.” FIFA, meanwhile, continued to punish Mexico and other teams for similar offenses during qualification. Chile and Croatia had to play important matches in empty stadiums as punishment for fans’ use of derogatory chants and language. (Chile did not qualify for the World Cup; Croatia’s qualifying campaign was successful).

So what can FIFA do now?

As part of an initiative to prevent racism and homophobia at this World Cup, FIFA introduced a “three-step process” to address bigotry in the stands. First, the referee is supposed to stop play to issue a warning over the public address system. Had the chants continued, the match could have then been suspended. If it continued after that, the proceedings could’ve been called off altogether. None of those steps were followed in Sunday’s match.

FIFA could levy more fines on the Mexican federation, though that method of deterrence clearly hasn’t worked. FIFA also has observers posted at all World Cup matches who reportedly have the authority to eject unruly fans, though judging by the booming audio from the match they’d have to escort out hundreds or thousands of people if they want to eradicate the puto chants.

In last year’s Confederations Cup in Russia (a tuneup tournament for the World Cup), Mexican fans avoided the chant during the team’s final two group games after there were reports of it being used in the opener. The change seemed to come from the supporters themselves and not FIFA. According to ESPN, “fans held up a banner asking others to refrain from chanting … [and] pamphlets were also handed out.”

Given that the World Cup is played at a neutral site, it would be unprecedented for FIFA to force Mexico to play in an empty stadium. Regardless, there has been no indication that FIFA will pursue this course of action against Mexico. In fact, FIFA has yet to release any specifics about the disciplinary proceedings resulting from the chanting at the Germany match, nor have they announced when those will occur.

“Further updates will be communicated in due course,” FIFA said in a statement. “As proceedings are ongoing please understand we cannot comment further at this stage.”

Unlike the chant itself, no translation is needed here. FIFA could use its substantial power to deter Mexican fans from chanting puto. It just won’t, at least not on the sport’s biggest stage.

Update, June 20, 5:15 p.m. ET: FIFA handed the Mexico Football Federation a $10,000 fine for its fans’ ”discriminatory and insulting chants” during the opening match against Germany. A source told ESPN’s Rene Tovar “that if the chants continue during matches, stadium security would begin to identify and remove the fans from the stands.”

An excerpt from the FIFA statement:

The decision was passed after a thorough assessment of the relevant match reports, the FMF’s precedents and the evidence provided, which included videos of the incidents as well as examples of certain sustainable actions taken by the FMF to raise awareness among its supporters. Moreover, the Disciplinary Committee gave a warning to the FMF, who may face additional sanctions in case of repeated infringements of this type.

Read the rest of Slate’s coverage of the 2018 World Cup.