During Mexico’s matches at the Gold Cup, the regional championship soccer tournament being played across the United States this month, Mexican fans have been chanting the word “puto,” typically a slur used in Mexico to mock gay men. The chant has become routine at Mexican national team soccer matches, and officials and many fans are embarrassed by the vulgarity and homophobic innuendo. Soccer officials of the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) have warned and fined Mexico eight times already, but the chant survives. Gold Cup Tournament organizers asked players to read a pledge urging fans to set a civil a example for children. Security officials were authorized to eject fans who shouted it. They even installed a technical device to block the chant from being audible in TV broadcasts.
Never mind. Fans are still bellowing the anti-gay slur at opposing teams and players, maybe more enthusiastically than ever. What’s a soccer federation to so?
For the Confederations Cup in Russia last month, the FIFA tried to get tough and announced a three-step program to discourage the chant. The first response to “Puuuuut000o!” was a public address announcement at the stadium, warning fans to stop or else. If the chant continues, which it will and did, the referees can stop the match until the chants subside. That won’t work either. I know fans. They will think that letting the game start and then having to be halted again because of what someone yells is hilarious. Finally, if all else failed, the referee can go nuclear and stop the match completely, sending everyone home.
A sport has a right and an obligation to regulate the environment in which games are played, and it is responsible and ethical to do so. It is also usually futile when the offense is one of civility, and when more than just a few drunks are involved. In the 1970’s in up-tight Boston, I witnessed the birth of the infamous “Yankees Suck!” chant in Fenway Park, and it has resurfaced periodically ever since. Sportswriters condemned it, TV stations tried to blot it out, but that just made the chant more popular. I must admit, there were times I found the display of a whole ball park chanting “Yankee’s Suck!” amusing, since, as we know, the Yankees DO suck.
But I never chanted myself. No, really. I didn’t.
One problem is that the chant has been around for a long time, before being homophobic was considered socially unacceptable. It is a historical tradition now, a little like “Yankees Suck!,” to which older Red Sox fans respond today by telling their wide-eyed grandchildren, “Ah, that chant reminds me of the says when Yaz, Carlton Fisk and El Tiante battled the Evil Empire of Reggie Jackson, Catfish Hunter and Billy Martin! Now that was baseball!”
Another problem is that soccer crowds are crazier than baseball crowds. How many referees are willing to risk a riot to stop a chant? I didn’t hear about any riots in Russia during the Confederations Cup, and we are informed that the FIFA has moved from getting tough to begging fans to be nice.
Ethics Alarms applauds the effort, at least. The problem is that once civility standards go south, they seldom improve. This is why the President Trump-led deterioration of civility and manners in the U.S. is likely to be a permanent Trump legacy.
I don’t think we can blame “Puto!’ on him, though.
Still, I’ve been wrong before…
On a related note, the Mexican sports journalist Luis Paez-Pumar found an avenue to criticize the FIFA efforts to still the ugly chant, claiming it was hypocrisy. He misuses the word. His complaint:
“[I]t is hypocritical of FIFA to crack down on the chant without addressing the elephants in the room: Russia and Qatar will be hosting the next two World Cups, and both countries have horrific histories when it comes to the persecution of LGBTQ communities. Sure, FIFA coming down hard on offensive chants is a positive, but we can’t pat them on the back when gay people are still being killed in countries hosting the biggest event in world soccer.”
…which is unfair and unereasonable. How is the Soccer federation supposed to change anti-gay sentiments in Russia and Qatar? They are working on their own culture, and eventually such efforts will bear fruit, plant seeds, and affect Russia and Quatar too.
Sources: New York Times, Remezcla 1, Remezcla 2
15 thoughts on “Soccer, Civility, And Mexican Fan Ethics”
Nice. Shows how un-PC many other countries are, despite what the media would have us believe.
I have a theory as to why soccer fans can be so…intense. The USA has many professional and non professional sports, with many teams within the country. Many smaller countries do not, and the national soccer team is the only outlet for the fan. All national pride and identity get wrapped up in this sport, and the results can be explosive as well as comical (like this case is)
I have absolutely no interest in soccer and it’s clownish fans South of the border. Mexico is a corrupt, failed state and this is why so many Mexicans want to leave the country.
But yes, failed state, many of us trying and successfully getting out (legally in this case), and clownish soccer fans (at least the ones that keep showing up at the stadium).
“…and some, I assume, are good people.”
In my experience calling the “árbitro” (referee) “puto” is a historical tradition in Mexican soccer. Chanting it aloud isn’t.
My Dad took me to soccer matches in Mexico City in the 80s and it was generally civil. You had the stray drunk or a boisterous group talking like sailors, but nothing like the whole stadium chanting together a gay slur.
[It occurs to me now that maybe something that has happened for 20 years *is* a historical tradition, which also means that I’m getting old]
The rise of “puto” happened in the late 90’s, in many ways as a follow-up to a popular song at the time of the same name (Molotov: Puto – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CzEbm7yup7g if you don’t mind a catchy song with a NSFW word every 2 to 3 seconds). At that time is when stadiums starting having a family section (before that all the stadium was the family section). I was never a big soccer fan and after starting college I only went to a few games, usually because my favorite team was playing an international, my Dad got free tickets, or the Selección was having another epic struggle to qualify for the World Cup. In all these instances, “puto” was present, but not at the level it is these days.
My latest experience was a friendly in Seattle by another one of the big Mexican teams. The chant was present from the beginning, was raised again every 10 minutes and for every single stop-ball for the other team the chant was enthusiastically invoked by the crowd.
So in summary: Yes, it’s gotten worse. No, I won’t take my kids to a Mexican Team soccer game (The Sounders are ok, and while I’m not a big fan of baseball, it’s cheaper, and I’m comfortable taking my 5 year to Safeco Field). Femexfut should do something about it. They won’t be getting any of my money until that is fixed (which may be never).
Terrific perspective, and very enlightening, Alex!
I retract my proposal of a few days ago, and propose anew: “Puto” should be the new all-purpose genderless pronoun, instead of “bitch.” A word so vile that crowds cannot resist chanting it is almost perfect for the cause. That the word further contributes to the Spanglishing of the language is a near perfect bonus. Puto uno think puto is numero uno!
“How is the Soccer federation supposed to change anti-gay sentiments in Russia and Qatar?”
I presume the argument is that if they truly cared about gay rights, they would simply not hold the World Cup in these countries at all? I gather there is a ballot, but my scant Wikipedia research shows that FIFA officials first visit the countries and prepare reports, so I suppose at least in principle any such embargoes could be applied at that stage.
Yes, but when does it stop? What country doesn’t have something that activists could claim deserve a boycott? (The answer is none.)
Or does there have to be a chant before the FIFA has to do something?
I’m certainly not advocating for the Heckler’s Veto, and FIFA are more than able to ignore whatever activists they choose, but in this case they are taking action against the chant, which suggests they agree there is a problem.
Thus the (supposed) hypocrisy thing – They care enough to try to stop the chant, but not enough to refuse hosting rights. Whether refusing to allow the World Cup to be hosted in a country would have any effect on their attitudes is questionable of course, but the message would certainly be sent.
Of course, practically, we can assume FIFA don’t care about anything but money, and are simply against the chant because it’s causing them problems and/or for virtue signalling, and have no desire to lose out on the income that would presumably result from blacklisting a country.
Have you written an article about the 1980 Olympic boycott?
No. Good topic, though.
Of course there’s always the Bleacher Kreachers song at Yankee Stadium, usually directed at Boston fans:
Hey gay man, get up off of your knees,
You know gay man, you will catch a disease,
No no, gay man, no no don’t touch me please,
Because you. have. got. a disease…
I have to ask you why are you gay?
I saw you sucking some D-I-C-K,
They have every size for your mouth to enjoy
You can hang out with all the boys!
Unfortunately since Michael Sam got cut I never got to yell
“He’s big! He’s black! He takes it up his crack!” at him in the Meadowlands.
Mercy me, THAT got a chuckle.
Which is unacceptable; it’s not making fun of Southern, Conservative, HS educated males with extra withering animosity available for those that are overweight and openly Christian.
I best self-report to the Diversity Gulag…
I’d have to do a cost/benefit analysis, but if the projections are right, the only answer is to install a number of large-size, moveable Cones of Silence over the stadium seating.