The Mexican Football Association: FMF, have promised five-year bans to fans who yell offensive words – but this has been a problem in Mexican football for more than two decades.
Last month, the Mexican FA – otherwise known as Femexfut or FMF – announced their intention to hand out five-year bans to supporters who sing anti-gay chants during national team games.
While this looks like an admirable attempt to make El Tri games more welcoming and inclusive, it is actually a belated attempt by the FMF to deal with an issue which has plagued the Mexican game for more than two decades.
Football authorities in the North American country have struggled to eradicate certain offensive terrace chants over recent years, particularly one shouted when opposition keepers take a goal kick – “puto”.
The chant is shouting this word, which is a derogatory term for a male prostitute in colloquial Spanish. It is similar to the ‘rent boy’ chants which have caused problems in English football for years.
For Mexico, choruses of “puto”, particularly prevalent when the men’s national team play, have led to them being sanctioned by FIFA. These punishments have also seen the FMF begin to campaign against the chant – having ignored it for years prior.
‘Puto’ chants were heard last summer when Mexico played Canada in the Gold Cup, causing the game to be stopped. In June 2021, FIFA hit Mexico with a $65,000 fine and forced them to play two official home matches behind closed doors following homophobic chants during an Olympic qualifier.
This ban on fans was eventually reduced, though Tata Martino’s side played their recent World Cup qualifiers against Costa Rica and Panama in front of just 2,000 supporters.
The issue being pushed onto the global stage forced the FMF to take action. A statement last month read: “The Mexican Football Federation reiterates its position of zero tolerance for any offensive or discriminatory comments in the stadiums.”
FMF president Yon De Luisa added: “With these measures – added to the previous efforts, which we will continue to carry out – we seek to end discriminatory acts, to stop affecting our national team and to punish the responsible people and not the majority of our fans, who already understand that the chants do nothing but affect us all.
“We cannot tolerate discriminatory acts, we cannot play in empty stadiums, we cannot put the soccer authorities at risk of taking away points or affecting our sports performance.
“We invite our great fans, who want to support the national team, to adopt these measures that allow us to count on their support in all the games.”
The FMF has released official videos on its social media channels condemning the chant, with players and notable Mexican football figures on camera speaking out against it.
“The ‘puto’ chant is in our past, because it is no longer part of our values as a nation,” the narrator says on another clip. “Our identity is our national team.
“Let’s stop chanting that one word, so we can chant many more. Let’s chant for the Mexico of today.”
Yet this is hardly a new phenomenon. Mexican supporters are thought to have started the chant during the late 1990s and early 2000s, when an opposing goalkeeper is preparing to take a goal kick.
Retired Mexican stopper Oswaldo Sanchez has said he was hearing “puto” when he took goal kicks as far back as 1999, although he shrugged it off as with most other heckles from opposition fans.
“It really made me laugh,” Sanchez said in the 2019 interview. “I don’t see it as homophobic, or offensive. Mexican people understand the word is used to have fun.”
The April 19, 2004 edition of the Mexican newspaper Reforma, mentions the chant when describing a match between Necaxa and Veracruz in Aguascalientes where visiting manager Tomas Boy shoved a ball boy.
“The fans didn’t tolerate that rudeness,” the report stated, “and skewered him with shouts of ‘puto, puto, puto.’”
We're Mexicans and we're better than this!!🇲🇽💪🏽— Mexican National Team (@miseleccionmxEN) June 12, 2021
Time to end the offensive chant!!🗣🚫#SupportWithoutOffending pic.twitter.com/rGcpT5wn6P
It has even been heard on the biggest stage in football; Mexico fans used it at the 2006 World Cup in Germany, while Brazilian supporters used it against El Tri at the 2014 tournament.
In total, FIFA has fined the FMF and the Mexican national team 15 times over the years for offensive chanting – after almost every major game – with fines totalling 4.5 million pesos($227,000), according to Marca.
Similar to the ‘rent boys’ situation, supporters have taken up staunch defences of the chant, usually on grounds of free speech, cultural context, and hypocrisy from FIFA, rather than out of homophobia.
“Context and connotation is important,” one Mexico fan told ESPN last year. “Clearly, people aren’t chanting at goalkeepers and attacking them for thinking they’re gay.
“[FIFA] is riding the wave of political correctness. I think it’s pathetic for them, on one hand, to have a World Cup in Qatar and on the other, sanction Mexico for a chant they perceive as discriminatory.”
The battle over ‘puto’ reflects, and to some fans is secondary to, the issues Mexico are having on the pitch, where their ageing side are often deployed with overly defensive tactics and have been outshone in CONCACAF qualifying by bright, young sides from Canada and the United States.
A crucial point here, however, is that LGBT+ players have spoken out against it.
“Soccer itself is a medium for change, and we need to recognize how impactful language can be,” Janelly Farias, a defender on Mexico’s women’s national team who is gay, told ESPN. “When people are using homophobic language, whether it’s intentional or not, it can be very detrimental.”
This is the nub of the issue – Mexican fans, through casual and ingrained homophobia, are making their own players feel uncomfortable, thus lessening their ability to play to their full potential and ultimately harming Mexico’s chances in big games and tournaments.
Hefty stadium bans and dire warnings about possibly missing out on World Cups are signs of progress, but it will be immensely difficult for FIFA or the FMF to turn around decades of fan behaviour, their protective attitude to one of their prized chants, and the ingrained culture of Mexican footballing fandom.
The harder the authorities push, the more likely we are to hear the ‘puto’ chant – at least in the short term.
Whether it will have an impact long term, we shall have to wait and see.