Mexican fans' 'homophobic' chants under FIFA scanner after win over Germany in Russia

FIFA is investigating alleged homophobic chants by Mexico fans during the 1-0 World Cup win over defending champions Germany on Sunday.

                            Mexican fans' 'homophobic' chants under FIFA scanner after win over Germany in Russia
(Getty Images)

Mexican football fans are known to be one of the most passionate audiences to ever grace 'the beautiful game.' However, they are notorious for giving one of the least significant moments in football an offensive and controversial turn. It is no surprise to any fan of the game that when the opponent's goalkeeper readies himself to hit a goal-kick, Mexican supporters start chanting: "Ehhhh..." with their voices rising in unison until he kicks the ball - immediately after which they shout "Puto!"

Fans across the world, right from Mexico City to California, use the term which is the homophobic slang for a male sex worker. As the world cup fever catches on in Russia, FIFA and the Mexican federation are even more embarrassed at the phenomenon, which never seems to change. After similar chants were heard during El Tri’s victory over Germany, FIFA announced on Monday that it has opened a disciplinary procedure against Mexico, reported BBC News.

Mexico is not the only country to be targeted by FIFA. The federation has issued 51 disciplinary actions over homophobic chants during the 2018 World Cup qualifiers.

These sanctions have been issued against countries such as Argentina, Brazil, Chile, El Salvador, Honduras, Panama, and Peru among several others.

That being said, Mexico remains the highlight of these verbal attacks. Joshua Nadel, author of 'Fútbol!: Why Soccer Matters in Latin America', said: "To call your opponent homosexual is definitely along a spectrum of machismo, whereby your opponent is weaker – less masculine.” 

A spokesperson for FIFA told the Guardian that the governing body would be deploying observers who would work with security to remove fans engaging in prejudicial behavior in the upcoming World Cup fixtures.

“I think that a lot of the hand-wringing is for show,” says Nadel, an assistant professor of Latin American and Caribbean history at North Carolina Central University. “If FIFA and/or the [Mexican federation] can plausibly say, ‘Look, we’re trying to stop it,’ then they can quiet critics without imposing some form of sanction that has real teeth. I’m not saying that they don’t care, but it isn’t among the top priorities of any federation or confederation.”

The controversial chant made its 2018 World Cup debut on Sunday in the 25th minute when German goalkeeper Manuel Neuer lined up a goal-kick. Later in the game, quicker goalkicks from the German side dialed down the intensity of the chants.

Slate’s Juliana Jiménez Jaramillo wrote about the FIFA's apparent inaction on the issue back in 2014: “They can abstractly consider what the word means, but they don’t understand the visceral gut punch you feel when you hear a slur in your native language. The Mexican team’s officials, on the other hand, know exactly what puto means. At the very least, they could give a symbolic statement denouncing it, even if it still takes decades for the fans to catch up.”

Public service announcements from Mexico players have encouraged fervent supporters to put a stop to the chants in recent years. A direct plea was tweeted by the Mexican federation earlier this month, urging fans to refrain from the chant. However, the fans couldn't care less.

A first-generation Mexican-American, Romeo Guzman, who admitted to participating in the chant when he was a teenager and is now teaching history focused on Mexican migration at Fresno State University, gave his two cents on the issue:

“It always seemed like a very abstract thing, something we were saying to the opponent in this euphoric, collective way. It was part of the game that was completely unquestioned.

"As an adult, things have changed. I look at it and I obviously don’t do it, and I wish that we could find ways to change it. It’s homophobic, and it’s not very clever.”

Having said that, quite a few fans denied accusations of homophobia and went on to insist that the chant is simply a joke. A YouTube commenter who denounced the outrage wrote: “We do not scream at the goalkeeper because of his sexual preference, we don’t even care about it. We shout to create chaos, because it is part of the atmosphere of a stadium in Mexico.”

Football fans from Mexico gather at the official FIFA Fan Fest at Moscow State University where they will watch the first World Cup game between Russia and Saudi Arabia on June 14, 2018, in Moscow, Russia. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

While some others say that the chant gives an inkling of a wider problem of homophobia that exists in society. 

“Mexico is not alone in this. It is the most visible because the chant accompanies the national team,” Nadel said. “The problem of homophobia in fútbol, both men’s and women’s – among fans, teams, and federations – is global. It is very hard to root out. Until societies cease seeing homosexuality through the lens of deviance and transgression, we will see homophobia in fútbol.”

A professor of English at the University of California, Jennifer Doyle, thinks the chant is more than likely to stop the fans were made to believe it casts an evil spell on the Mexican national team, the Sport Spectacle reported.

“I really want people to imagine that ‘puto’ is the own goal of curses,” Doyle said. “That when fans of El Tri shout this word at their team’s opponent, every gay Mexican ghost – and that’s a lot of ghosts – commits themselves to extending the team’s curse.”

“Convince fans that it brings bad luck to their own team,” she said, “and this nonsense will stop.”