Mexico’s soccer federation avoided paying roughly $35,000 on Thursday after the Court of Arbitration for Sport canceled two fines imposed by FIFA and instead issued a warning over what it deemed a “discriminatory” chant used by fans.
Widely known as a gay slur, the Spanish word “puto” could be heard loud and clear in two games, one against El Salvador in November 2015 and another against Canada in March 2016, when the opposing team takes a goal kick.
On Thursday, CAS acknowledged the fans said the chant, which is common throughout Central and South American soccer. CAS even concluded it “should not be tolerated in football stadiums.” But CAS pointed to FIFA’s own confusing past precedents on the issue as reason why Mexico’s soccer federation should be given a warning instead of a fine.
“In coming to its conclusion, the CAS Panel found that, at the time of the facts, several circumstances and FIFA precedents made the [Mexican soccer federation] believe that the chant did not infringe the [FIFA Disciplinary Code] and that any concerns that might have arisen with regard to the significance of the chant had previously been dispelled by the FIFA DC,” the CAS said in a statement on Thursday.
The CAS pointed to a relatively quick about-face FIFA made about the chant following the 2014 World Cup, where it refused to sanction Brazil after its fans repeatedly chanted the phrase during the tournament. Less than a year later, however, FIFA would adopt a new disciplinary code that called for harsh sanctions against fan behavior deemed discriminatory or insulting.
That the Mexico games in question came soon after that, the CAS said Mexico argued in its appeal, did not give the federation “the opportunity to take any action or measure that could have prevented, mitigated or stopped the chant.”
The CAS stopped short of granting Mexico its full appeal, however, noting while the chant was not intended to offend or discriminate [against] any specific person,” it was still “considered discriminatory or insulting in nature … Accordingly, the CAS Panel ruled that the appropriate sanction in each case was a warning.”
While Mexico’s soccer federation will no doubt be relieved to save some cash this time, that the warning remains should give it extra incentive to try to phase the chant out of stadiums, a task easier said than done.
The Mexican soccer federation has been trying since 2015 to quash the fans’ habit, even enlisting the help of some of the sport’s biggest Mexican stars.
With that campaign showing only minimal success, however, the federation decided to instead just plead with fans this summer.
“As you know, FIFA is very serious about the chanting that we do when the goalkeeper takes a kick, and the possible sanctions are serious,” the Federation of Mexican Soccer told fans (via the BBC) in June. “Our efforts on the pitch will come to nothing if, because of this, we lose the match, the game is suspended or you are expelled from the stadium.”
The federation’s statement added: “We lose, you lose, everyone loses.”
One of the problems is that the chant is ingrained in Mexican culture, even showing up this week, in a Mexican congressional debate. And contrary to proponents’ rationalizations that the word isn’t meant to offend the LGBTQ community, advocates say it’s impossible not to.
“The whole point is that the choice of this word is absolutely linked to a negative, homophobic meaning,” Enrique Torre Molina, the Mexican campaign manager at All Out told the New York Times last year. ” ‘Puto’ is the word many gay men have been called in school or even by family members to mock us or put us down,” he continued. ” ‘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.”
The Mexican soccer federation has not publicly acknowledged the CAS’s decision.