Mexico has a chanting problem. Professional soccer games in Mexico—partidos de fútbol—are rowdy events more often than not, and games are often occasions for crowds to shout obscenities. This has proved particularly true when a Mexican national team plays another nation’s team in the international matches that lead to the World Cup.
As more and more such games are televised internationally, Mexican authorities have grown increasingly embarrassed by their fans’ behavior. Not to worry, though, for (under pressure from the government and international soccer organizations) Mexico’s fútbol organizers are beginning to apply their plans for halting the offensive chants—or, at least, halting international broadcasts of the offensive chants.
So, for example, they have begun by making players read aloud little pledges about good conduct to fans. They have put their security on high alert, ready to kick anyone out of the stadium who says something deemed offensive. And, more dishonestly, they have prepared recordings of other crowds chanting non-offensive slogans, which the stadiums will blast over the loudspeakers and layer over the television feeds.
All this planning fell short on July 9 in San Diego, California at a Gold Cup game between teams from Mexico and El Salvador. Mexican fans loudly chanted “Puto!” at the opposing team in Mexico’s 3-1 victory. Google offers only “pissed off” as a translation for the Spanish word, equivalent to, say, the Britishism “bloody.” But puto at its root means a whore, the male counterpart to puta. Sometimes used as a slur against gays, the word also conveys the sense in Mexico of a coward or a traitor.
The planning fell short again this Thursday night, in Denver, Colorado. As the Mexican team played the Jamaican team to a scoreless 0-0 tie, the Mexican fans ignored their instructions and began shouting out “Puto!” again. The cheering continued on Twitter, with Mexico fans tweeting out their fútbol opinions using the word puto and commenting that it wasn’t a Mexico game unless the slur was chanted.
The long-standing tradition of chanting has led FIFA and other soccer organizers to threaten Mexico forfeits and sanctions. The Mexican national fútbol team has already been fined over $100,000 by FIFA for eight violations related to the puto chant, and more serious action is on the horizon.
Mexico has complained, with some justification, that a basic unfairness lurks in the idea of penalizing a team for the actions of its fans. Moreover, by making an international incident out of the chant, FIFA may be inciting fans to use the chant more. According to The New York Times, FIFA has already “cited several other countries for homophobic taunts,” without success at halting the practice, and the identification of a word like puto entirely with developed nations’ attempts to end homophobic slurs can feel, to the poor among Mexican fans, as another slap by international elites at the national identification they feel with Mexico’s team.
Filming Sunday’s game against El Salvador, the Fox network refused to use the tapes of fake chants that Mexican authorities had prepared, keeping unfiltered microphones live for the Fox stream of the game Sunday night. Phillip Moggio, president of CONCACAF (which organizes the Gold Cup), announced after the game that Mexican fútbol would continue its campaign for “changing attitudes among the fan base.” Little girls at the soccer games have been carefully arranged to hold a “No Hate Speech” banner.
While all bigotry needs to be denounced, there is something strange in the effort to draw the line at this particular (and not entirely certain) slur. Ignoring the need to create a culture of better manners in general at international soccer games, FIFA and other fútbol organizations seem to the poor fans of the world to be imperialistically imposing first-world values in one area, while leaving a world in which sports fans still scream other obscenities at opposing teams. It is a peculiarity for fútbol to suddenly insist on politically correct manners, in a sport that has profited greatly from the ill manners of its fans.
So, almost in ironic self-defense, Mexican fans chanted their offensive slogans. What did FIFA expect to happen?