Why did homophobic chants happen at the U.S.-Mexico match? The fan tradition explained

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The homophobic chant that has marred Mexico national team games for years added further humiliation to El Tri’s 3-0 loss to the United States on Thursday night in Las Vegas. The CONCACAF Nations League semifinal between the region’s fiercest rivals resulted in four red cards (two from each side), as violent conduct overshadowed a dominant performance by the Americans. 

The chant, in which fans shout a slur at the opposing goalkeeper during his run up to take a goal kick, has been a tradition in Mexican football for many years, with differing stories as to its origins. But what’s certain is the negative connotations it carries and the detrimental effect that it has had on the Mexican national team and Liga MX clubs over the years. 

Authorities have increased efforts to stamp it out, but those initiatives continue to be ignored by sections of the Mexico fanbase. In 2019, FIFA introduced a three-step protocol to combat the chant. If it is heard, step one of the protocol includes stoppage of play and a warning to the fans. If the chants continue, step two is match suspension and the players are instructed to return to their dressing rooms until the offending behavior stops. The third and final step is match abandonment after consultation with team captains and venue security “as a very last resort.” On Thursday night, the protocol did not advance beyond stage one.

The unpredictability of such behavior, from such a large contingent of fans, has made it difficult for the Mexican Football Federation (FMF) to combat homophobia at venues in both the U.S. and Mexico. Together with Soccer United Marketing (SUM), the federation’s U.S.

The homophobic chant that has marred Mexico national team games for years added further humiliation to El Tri’s 3-0 loss to the United States on Thursday night in Las Vegas. The CONCACAF Nations League semifinal between the region’s fiercest rivals resulted in four red cards (two from each side), as violent conduct overshadowed a dominant performance by the Americans. 

The chant, in which fans shout a slur at the opposing goalkeeper during his run up to take a goal kick, has been a tradition in Mexican football for many years, with differing stories as to its origins. But what’s certain is the negative connotations it carries and the detrimental effect that it has had on the Mexican national team and Liga MX clubs over the years. 

Authorities have increased efforts to stamp it out, but those initiatives continue to be ignored by sections of the Mexico fanbase. In 2019, FIFA introduced a three-step protocol to combat the chant. If it is heard, step one of the protocol includes stoppage of play and a warning to the fans. If the chants continue, step two is match suspension and the players are instructed to return to their dressing rooms until the offending behavior stops. The third and final step is match abandonment after consultation with team captains and venue security “as a very last resort.” On Thursday night, the protocol did not advance beyond stage one.

The unpredictability of such behavior, from such a large contingent of fans, has made it difficult for the Mexican Football Federation (FMF) to combat homophobia at venues in both the U.S. and Mexico. Together with Soccer United Marketing (SUM), the federation’s U.S.-based marketing partner, and CONCACAF, the FMF has invested time and money to produce public awareness campaigns — the results of which remain inconsistent. 

CONCACAF’s “What’s Wrong is Wrong” anti-discrimination campaign launched in 2021, and coincidentally was re-launched on Thursday to coincide with the U.S.—Mexico semifinal. 

Speaking to The Athletic in January of last year, former FMF president Yon De Luisa, who recently left his post, praised the federation and SUM’s vigorous efforts to stamp out the chant. 

“We were able to stop the chant over the summer (of 2021),” De Luisa said. “It was a major undertaking because each match took place at a different stadium. And so all of the awareness and communication convinced the fans that the chant does not help the national team. In fact, it does the opposite. It hurts and damages the national team. We accomplished that (during friendlies) in the United States. We had legal statements on tickets, messages from the team captain, videos and giant banners. We made great strides at that time.”

The FMF then instituted even stricter controls that required fans to register for a fan ID card, using facial recognition to ban those caught in the act at national team matches. At the time, De Luisa vehemently made his case against prejudicial behavior.

“Discriminatory acts will never be tolerated,” he said. “And that part has to be embraced by the general public. The world has changed. Negative comments about race, education, geography and especially against women — that type of discrimination is not welcome anywhere. We’re focused on stadiums and that’s what we’re doing. The campaigns are just one part of our approach.”

Mexico is not the only country that has dealt with discriminatory chants. At the World Cup in Qatar, FIFA charged Ecuador with violating its disciplinary code after fans chanted slurs in the tournament’s opening match against Qatar. Leagues around the world continue to deal with incidents of racial abuse toward players.

The chant, however, continues to be a stain that the FMF and CONCACAF struggle to eradicate. To generalize every El Tri fan as unruly or homophobic would be wrong. Nonetheless, a stigma now exists. As a result, the FMF has been levied fines by FIFA, the game’s world governing body, and has been issued stadium bans due to the homophobic slur in recent years. In September of 2021, Mexico defeated Jamaica 1-0 in a World Cup qualifier at the Estadio Azteca without fans due to prior use of the chant. 

At the club level, LAFC in MLS had success in eradicating the chant from their matches thanks to organized fan groups preaching messages of inclusion alongside members of the club.

The fear in Mexico is that tougher penalties by FIFA could include a deduction of points or the forfeit of an official match at a major tournament. Mexico begins CONCACAF Gold Cup play on June 25, but beyond that, there is also concern as to how Mexico could be sanctioned if the chant is heard during the 2026 World Cup, which the country will co-host with the U.S. and Canada. 

FIFA’s Disciplinary Committee opened proceedings during last winter’s World Cup in Qatar after the chant was heard during Mexico’s matches against Poland and Saudi Arabia. After Mexico was eliminated in the group stage, De Luisa addressed both investigations and cast blame on the referee of Mexico’s game against the Saudis for failing to caution the opposing goalkeeper.

“We’ve worked hand in hand with FIFA and with CONCACAF in order to prevent this,” De Luisa told reporters on December 1. “I believe that we managed to control (the chant) very well in the first two matches and practically during the entirety of the third. We recognize that this is a group effort and that the referees at competitions where Mexico typically participates are trained to resolve this type of situation.

“We believe that had (the referee) shown the (Saudi) goalkeeper a yellow card during the many times that he wasted, surely the chant would not have been heard. Our fans behaved exemplary during this World Cup, in spite of what happened in stoppage time of last night’s game.”

Earlier this month, the FMF introduced new president Juan Carlos Rodríguez as De Luisa’s successor. Rodríguez will have to tackle this situation head-on, even if it appears to be a losing battle. His legacy, like De Luisa’s, will no doubt be impacted by how much progress is gained or lost from here through 2026. 

The FMF did not immediately reply when asked to comment on last night’s incidents.

Source: The Ahletic