How Mexico's soccer federation plans to finally purge homophobic chant

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In 2018, when Yon De Luisa took over as president of the Mexican Football Federation (FMF), soccer’s governing body in a country where soccer is king, the extent of the federation’s effort to root out the homophobic “p***” chant was an unspecific, ineffective campaign that allowed the chant to ring freely at nearly every match the Mexican men’s national team played.

Three years later, De Luisa and FMF have a goal: to silence the chant by the end of 2021.

And they have a plan. De Luisa outlined it in an interview with Yahoo Sports as the federation launched a new campaign along with a commitment: They are pledging to work with stadium security, eject fans who participate in the chant, and follow FIFA’s three-step protocol in any match over which they have control. That means PA announcements and match stoppages wherever the chant arises – potentially in upcoming friendlies in the United States.

The federation is also acknowledging, unlike before, that the chant is discriminatory. The Spanish word “p***” has multiple meanings, and fans have long argued that when they scream it en masse at opposing goalkeepers, it has nothing to do with homosexuality. But FIFA has ruled that it’s homophobic. FARE, a leading anti-discrimination group, has explained that the word refers “to gay men in a derogatory way.”

“We understand that, even if it doesn't go with that intent, if other people feel it that way, then it is that way,” De Luisa said. “That's why we want to eradicate it.

“Paying for a ticket doesn't allow you to discriminate someone,” he added.

And so they have launched two videos, one in English, one in Spanish. One is vague, but calls the chant “discriminatory.” The other is powerful and direct. It features players and other prominent Mexican soccer figures urging fans to refrain:

“If you scream ‘p***,’ the referee will stop the game, and they will remove you from the stadium.

“If the chant is heard again, the referee will halt the game and could take the players to the locker rooms.

“And if it happens again, we could have to forfeit the game.”

Those are the three steps, and that, in essence, is the federation’s new commitment. It first cracked down on the chant in 2019, after FIFA’s new protocols were enacted. A campaign similar to this one began that fall. But then the pandemic hit, and fans watched from home. Now, with supporters – including millions in the U.S. – returning to stadiums to follow El Tri, FMF is renewing that commitment.

The question, now, is how it will follow through.

The Mexican federation's plan

So, let’s start with Step 1. How, exactly, do you eject each of the thousands of fans who scream the word every time an opposing keeper approaches a goal kick?

“From our experience, in the past, we believe that it begins in a small part of the [stands],” De Luisa said of the chant. “When you hear the entire stadium, it is because it has already happened several times throughout the match.

“So, the idea is, with all the closed caption TV within the stadium, and with additional security – because there will be additional security in the stands – that we can [identify] exactly where it begins.”

And not only will security eject those fans after their first offense. Stadium operations will show the ejections on jumbotrons, De Luisa said. “This is a persuasive action that really helps the entire stadium see that, ‘Oh, I don't wanna be that guy on the screen.’ ”

And no, fans won’t get personal warnings. It’s one strike and you’re out, De Luisa said. “Because they are already warned – before the match, there will be warnings on the giant screen. There will be thorough campaigns in the different venues. So the warning will be there.”

The
The "p***" chant has marred nearly every significant match that the Mexican men's national team has played over the past few years. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

If the chant continues, Step 2 involves significant match stoppages and puts enforcement in the hands of the referee, who is not officially part of this multi-pronged FMF campaign. But, De Luisa explained, there’s a match commissioner, who can communicate with the fourth official, who can in turn communicate with the referee, and alert the referee to chanting that would merit a stoppage.

At official matches controlled by FIFA or CONCACAF, FMF has less control. And CONCACAF, soccer’s North and Central American governing body, has also been loath to address the chant in the past. But De Luisa said that he’s spoken with CONCACAF, and that CONCACAF is “fully committed” to the same protocols. A CONCACAF spokesman confirmed that they'll apply at this summer’s Nations League finals and Gold Cup, and that CONCACAF will launch its own campaign this summer.

“The goalkeeper chant has no place in the game and we want to leave it in the past," the CONCACAF spokesman said.

Perhaps the trickiest question of all is what would happen if Steps 1 and 2 don’t work. Would FMF, or CONCACAF, or whoever’s in charge really abandon a match?

“We don't want to get to that point, but, if the match needs to be abandoned, it will be,” De Luisa said. He and a spokesman pointed out, though, that there are intermediary steps that can be taken. Or, authorities could repeat Step 1 or 2 rather than make the unprecedented leap to Step 3.

A timeline for eradicating the chant

Much of FMF’s public rhetoric references potential competitive consequences – namely, that FIFA could penalize Mexico during upcoming men’s World Cup qualifiers. Until two years ago, penalties for the chant were limited to fines. But FIFA's updated disciplinary code, announced mere days after the chant was prevalent at the 2019 Gold Cup final, clarifies that if discriminatory chanting were to trigger Step 3, and a match were to be abandoned, the team whose fans were the offenders would be dealt a forfeit loss.

When asked if that threat was legitimate, De Luisa said: “Absolutely. Absolutely. And FIFA was really direct and strict, and they told us and other federations, if you don't solve your problem, sanctions will be applied.”

The hope among LGBTQ fans, though, is that this campaign is more than a reaction to the threat. The hope is that it’s a statement about inclusivity and principles. De Luisa seemed to reaffirm this.

“We believe, and we understand, that anything that we do that affects another person … we shouldn't do it,” he said. “It doesn't matter if we believe it was not with the intention of harming anybody. If the other person feels that there's an act of discrimination, then we shouldn't do it.”

When asked to clarify that the campaign is a declaration that the “p***” chant is homophobic and discriminatory, De Luisa said without hesitation: “Yes.”

He and others at the federation know that eradication will be gradual. “We understand that it's not gonna be an easy effort. It's gonna take some time,” he said. “But we believe that Mexican fans and fans all over the world, they will understand that this is not right.”

When asked for a goal, a target length for this project, he began itemizing El Tri’s busy 2021 schedule: some U.S. friendlies and the Nations League finals over the next month; then the Gold Cup; then eight World Cup qualifiers in the fall. The inconsistency of venue and competition will prolong the process, he noted.

But, he said: “I truly believe that this will be history by the end of the year.”

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