Mex­i­can fans don’t see prob­lem

Mex­i­can soc­cer fans have been asked to stop shout­ing an anti-gay slur at games.

Los Angeles Times - - SPORTS - By Kate Linthicum

Chant at goal­keep­ers is thought to be of­fen­sive by many and could cost their team a game.

MEX­ICO CITY — They’ve been begged by star play­ers to stop it, fined re­peat­edly, and threat­ened with dra­matic sanc­tions that could hurt their na­tional team’s chances in the World Cup.

But Mex­i­can soc­cer fans have been loath to give up their fa­vorite game-day chant, a ho­mo­pho­bic slur that has been con­demned by gay rights groups, gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials and in­ter­na­tional soc­cer au­thor­i­ties.

At a re­cent World Cup qual­i­fy­ing match at Mex­ico City’s mas­sive Es­ta­dio Azteca, game or­ga­niz­ers aired mes­sages plead­ing with fans not to say it. Be­fore­hand, some of the team’s top play­ers had spo­ken in pub­lic ser­vice an­nounce­ments to con­demn the slur.

But the crowd of more than 80,000 had other plans.

Each time the goalie for the United States team picked up the ball to punt it, the crowd be­gan chant­ing, “Ee­hhh,” stretch­ing out the sound like a long mu­si­cal

note on a crescendo. When the goalie fi­nally kicked the ball, the crowd shouted “puto!” in uni­son.

The word, which trans­lates roughly to “male pros­ti­tute,” has long been used in Mex­ico as a slur against gay men.

Many soc­cer fans in­sist it isn’t meant as an anti-gay insult. They point out that the word has taken on other mean­ings, in­clud­ing “cow­ard,” and is even some­times used be­tween friends — kind of like “dude.”

Crit­ics say fans ob­vi­ously aren’t scream­ing “dude!” at op­pos­ing teams.

“There’s no ques­tion that in this con­text, it’s an insult,” said Rafael Ocampo, a long­time sports­writer in Mex­ico City who is now the di­rec­tor of Mile­nio Tele­vi­sion. “It’s an em­bar­rass­ment.”

De­bate over the term has be­come a light­ning-rod is­sue in Mex­ico. Same­sex mar­riage is le­gal in sev­eral states, but dis­crim­i­na­tion and vi­o­lence against gays is a reg­u­lar oc­cur­rence in many parts of the coun­try.

“Slurs like this are part of the vi­o­lent con­text that we live,” said Paulina Martinez, who heads a gay rights group.

“We live in a coun­try where pri­ests do anti-gay con­ver­sion ther­apy, where there are big anti-gay marches,” she said, re­fer­ring to last year’s “pro-fam­ily” demon­stra­tions or­ga­nized by a far-right po­lit­i­cal party that brought tens of thou­sands of peo­ple into the streets across the coun­try. “Ho­mo­pho­bia is very much a part of our na­tional dis­course.”

The chant is be­lieved to have emerged about 15 years ago in Mex­ico’s na­tional soc­cer league. Fans of one team be­gan scream­ing it at their for­mer goal­keeper, who they felt had be­trayed them by join­ing a ri­val club. The chant al­ways seems to play out the same way: the pro­longed “Ee­hhh,” capped by the slur.

The chant was ubiq­ui­tous dur­ing the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, where it drew in­creas­ing scru­tiny from in­ter­na­tional gay rights ac­tivists as well as FIFA dis­ci­plinary of­fi­cials. At the time, the Mex­i­can team’s coach, Miguel Her­rera, laughed it off, say­ing the term was an an­cient Aztec word that meant “force a bad punt from the goal­keeper.”

More re­cently, Mex­ico’s play­ers have de­fended it, even while they also par­tic­i­pate in pub­lic ser­vice an­nounce­ments ask­ing fans not to use the phrase.

“To a Mex­i­can, it’s not meant to of­fend,” star player Miguel Layun said in a re­cent in­ter­view with Fox Sports. “Even among friends, we call our­selves that.”

Now, in the run-up to the 2018 World Cup in Rus­sia, soc­cer au­thor­i­ties are tak­ing the chant more se­ri­ously. The Mex­i­can Soc­cer Fed­er­a­tion has been fined thou­sands of dol­lars mul­ti­ple times in re­cent months af­ter fans chanted the slur dur­ing sev­eral World Cup qual­i­fy­ing matches.

Ahead of this month’s Con­fed­er­a­tions Cup, FIFA, the in­ter­na­tional gov­ern­ing body of soc­cer, an­nounced a dra­matic plan to try to stamp out the chant. Cam­eras have been trained on the stands to mon­i­tor fans’ be­hav­ior. If any fans are seen scream­ing the chant, Mex­ico will be is­sued a for­mal warn­ing.

If they per­sist, ref­er­ees have the author­ity to sus­pend the match or end the game al­to­gether.

Mex­ico re­ceived a for­mal warn­ing last Sun­day af­ter some fans screamed the chant in a match against Por­tu­gal.

But on Wed­nes­day, when the team beat New Zealand 2-1, the chant was ab­sent. Ac­cord­ing to news re­ports, some fans screamed “Mex­ico!” in­stead of the insult, when the op­pos­ing goalie kicked the ball. Their ab­sten­tion won wide­spread praise from sports au­thor­i­ties and gay rights ac­tivists around the world.

But in Mex­ico, some fans were dis­ap­pointed.

“For most of us, it’s just not some­thing im­por­tant,” said Fer­nando Sanchez, 42, who was watch­ing the New Zealand game at a restau­rant called Hot Dogs Ramirez while on a break from the con­struc­tion pro­ject he’s over­see­ing.

Sanchez said he has shouted the chant at many games, and doubts fans at home games in Mex­ico will stop do­ing it.

“If it was ac­tu­ally of­fen­sive,” he said, “we would stop.”

Ed­uardo Ver­dugo As­so­ci­ated Press

MEX­I­CAN FANS gather at World Cup qual­i­fy­ing match. Or­ga­niz­ers have warned fans the chant could sus­pend games or even end them.

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