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.