FIFA continues to try to stamp out soccer fans’ homophobic behavior by sanctioning countries – even if the punishments amount to little more than a slap on the wrist. Today, soccer’s governing body doled out fines to 11 nations, including Argentina, Brazil, Chile, El Salvador, Honduras, Paraguay, Peru, and Mexico. The harshest penalty went to Chile, which had its home stadium ban extended by one game and must pay a $66,000 fine.
It’s the fifth time in a year that FIFA has cited Mexico for homophobic fan chants. Mexico has, for some time, waged a losing battle to try to get fans to let go of the “ehh puto” chant. And its failure to persuade fans has now led to another fine – this one working out to about $30,000. But as sports writer Grant Wahl points out, the country has yet to face a serious penalty.
The “eh puto” chant is deeply embedded into Mexico’s soccer culture. While some undoubtedly see it as a homophobic slur, others will be quick to tell you that the word “puto” has different meanings in Mexico. But – as with many other instances of offensive speech – it’s not intention that matters.
“The whole point is that the choice of this word is absolutely linked to a negative, homophobic meaning,” Enrique Torre Molina, a campaign manager at gay rights organization All Out, told the New York Times. “‘Puto’ is the word many gay men have been called in school or even by family members to mock us or put us down. ‘Puto’ is the word many gay men hear as they’re being beaten, sometimes to death, in the daily homophobic crimes committed in Latin America.”
Explanations like this still won’t deter those who believe it’s just an innocent word. But it’s necessary to curb usage of the word in a country that’s so dangerous for members of the LGBTQ community. In March, the Selección Nacional de México launched an anti-discrimination campaign. In the video, Mexico’s top stars say, “For us, differences aren’t a barrier. We don’t discriminate. We respect others’ opinions.” Not once did it use the word “puto,” but as a Mexican Soccer Federation employee told Fusion, the campaign’s principal goal is to eradicate the homophobic chant.
Months later – with FIFA threatening to bring more penalties, including having the national team play official games without an audience – the Selección Nacional de México released a more blatant appeal. Titled “Ya párale,” Guillermo Ochoa, Alfredo Talavera, and Jesus Corona asked fans to stop using the word so that the team didn’t have to play a game to an empty stadium. Once again, the campaign doesn’t specifically mention the word. That month, the team played in the Copa América Centenario and the “eh puto” chant came in as clearly as ever.
So what can be done? FIFA and the Mexican Federation can start by looking online, because plenty of people are actively asking that FIFA do more. On Latino Rebels, Joel Tena argues that the federation needs to fight back harder and address the issue head on. “Not calling out what they want stopped, and why it should be stopped, is a problem,” Tena wrote. “Not working with LGBTQ groups in Mexico and the U.S. was a huge mistake. The Federation should tackle the problem head on, from talking more direct about the chant with its ad campaign, to educating its players on why this need exists, to working with the fans and supporters groups to help them in their own efforts to eradicate the chant from the stands.”
As for FIFA, if it’s really serious about ending the homophobic in soccer, it needs to hand out more severe punishments. With an estimated $50 million in revenue, $30,000 is pocket change for the Mexican federation. But increasing fines – to the tune of millions – may push the federation to make concrete changes. And if that doesn’t work, then it needs to punish fans and keep them from going to games.
“In a sense, this crates an incentive for fan self-policing,” wrote Elliot Turner on Fusion. “Stare down the ‘puto’-chanting prick next to you so he or she won’t ruin it for the rest of us. Also, this is superior to a fine simply based on math: 55,000 fans no longer buying tickets worth, on average, $60 a pop.”