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FIFA punishes Mexico for fans’ repeated use of homophobic slur

Mexican fans are being investigated for using inappropriate language at a May 29 friendly between Mexico and Iceland in Arlington, Tex. (Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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Soccer’s international governing body Friday punished Mexico for the use of homophobic slurs by its fans on multiple occasions this year, ordering the program to stage two official home matches without spectators.

FIFA did not specify which teams or games would be affected, but the next official home games are the 2022 World Cup qualifiers for the men’s national team against Jamaica on Sept. 2 and Canada on Oct. 7.

That would mean Mexico would not have the usual thunderous support at 87,000-seat Estadio Azteca in Mexico City.

FIFA’s disciplinary committee fined the Mexican Football Federation (FMF) about $65,000 for the behavior of fans at two matches at the Olympic men’s qualifying tournament for under-23 squads in March in Guadalajara.

FIFA said it is also investigating incidents at Mexico’s senior friendly against Iceland on May 29 in Arlington, Tex.

There was no mention of the Concacaf Nations League semifinal and final June 3 and June 6 in Denver, when both Mexican matches were briefly suspended because fans chanted the homophobic slur in Spanish.

“We must stop this now,” FMF President Yon de Luisa said Friday at a news conference. “The effect can be devastating for Mexican soccer. Let it be the first and last sanction that FIFA gives us.”

De Luisa was joined at the media session by Gerardo Martino, coach of the senior national team, who said, “I want to ask all Mexican supporters to reflect, so they understand the meaning and scope of this type of attitude, which inevitably divides us.”

Perspective | With Mexico in Concacaf Nations League, soccer again confronts homophobic slur at matches

The penalties come after failed attempts by both the FMF and Concacaf, which governs the sport in North America and parts of South America, to stem the offensive chants through social media campaigns and stadium announcements.

Despite those efforts, fans have continued to yell the slur in unison at the opposing goalkeeper as he takes a goal kick. During Mexico’s first game at the Nations League, several fans were ejected for using the slur.

The chant has plagued Mexican matches for years, and after dragging their feet on the issue, Mexican officials this spring ramped up their efforts to stop it. They were motivated by both growing criticism and fear of punishment.

In 2017, FIFA instituted a three-step procedure to deal with what it calls “discriminatory incidents,” primarily racial, in its tournaments. Two years ago, the organization encouraged all governing bodies to follow its lead and implement the same policies.

The first step is to halt the match briefly. The second, if necessary, is to send players to the locker rooms and, if all else fails, call off the game. If a World Cup home qualifier were abandoned, a team could end up forfeiting points and falling in the standings.

At the 2018 World Cup in Russia, however, FIFA did not implement its three-step policy when the chant was used during Mexico’s opener against Germany. Instead, the Mexican federation was fined $10,000, and Mexican players turned to social media to encourage better behavior.

Despite stepping up efforts this year, de Luisa said, “consequences are now a reality.”

He also cited the 2026 World Cup, which will be staged in the United States, Mexico and Canada. “If this does not stop now,” de Luisa said, “how can we host a World Cup if we are going to have our stadiums empty?

“We urge those who are not willing to behave in the stadium not to harm the millions of Mexicans who want to support the national team. We have to end this once and for all.”

Forcing teams to play without spectators is unusual but not unprecedented. Usually clubs are the ones disciplined for unruly behavior or discriminatory language by fans.

Mexico is heavily favored to earn one of Concacaf’s three automatic berths to the World Cup in Qatar. The eight-nation final round will begin Sept. 2 and run through March. Each team will play 14 matches (seven home, seven away). A fourth team will advance to an intercontinental playoff.

The United States will host Mexico in November at a venue to be determined and play the away leg in March.

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