Mexico punished for fans' homophobic chant, will play World Cup qualifiers in empty stadium

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Mexico's men's national soccer team must play its first two home 2022 World Cup qualifiers in empty stadiums as punishment for some of its fans' insistence on yelling a homophobic slur during matches.

The "p***" chant has plagued Mexican soccer for years. Officials refused to reckon with it until recently. The Mexican soccer federation (FMF) promised to crack down in 2019, and again this year. But fans have belted it during opposing goal kicks at most or all Mexican men's national team games in 2021.

The sanctions, levied by FIFA, are specifically for the chant's appearance at two Olympic qualifying games in March in Guadalajara. An investigation has also been opened into chanting at Mexico's friendly against Iceland last month in Arlington, Texas.

Further probes could look into the CONCACAF Nations League semifinal and final earlier this month. The chant marred both games in Denver, and both were briefly halted in second-half stoppage time as a public address announcement warned fans to stop.

FMF acknowledged the punishment Friday, and FIFA confirmed it in a statement to Yahoo Sports:

The FIFA Disciplinary Committee has sanctioned the Mexican Football Association (FMF) with a fine of [$65,000 U.S. dollars] and an order to play its two upcoming official home matches behind closed doors following homophobic chants by Mexican fans at the Olympic Football Tournament qualifiers against Dominican Republic and the USA played in Guadalajara on 18 and 24 March 2021 respectively.

The committee has also opened separate proceedings against the FMF in relation to homophobic chants by Mexican fans at their team’s friendly match against Iceland played in Arlington, Texas, on 29 May 2021.

The FMF has been notified of both decisions.

A FIFA spokesman would not confirm to Yahoo Sports that "upcoming official home matches" refers to World Cup qualifiers, or even that it refers to men's senior national team matches. But the spokesman did confirm that "upcoming" means "the next two," and no Mexican national team has an official match scheduled on home soil between now and September.

The two games that will have to be played without fans, therefore, are World Cup qualifiers against Jamaica in September and against Canada in October.

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 ruled years ago that it’s homophobic. FARE, a leading anti-discrimination group, has explained that the word refers “to gay men in a derogatory way.” FMF president Yon De Luisa acknowledged in an interview with Yahoo Sports last month that the chant is, in fact, homophobic and "discriminatory."

“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.

Prior to 2019, Mexico's soccer federation (FMF) did not acknowledge that the chant was homophobic. And FIFA, the global soccer governing body, limited its sanctions to fines. But that summer, shortly after the chant was prevalent at the Gold Cup final, FIFA updated its disciplinary code and promised harsher punishments.

So Mexico launched campaigns to address the chant. De Luisa promised a wide-ranging effort to silence it. FMF and CONCACAF, the North and Central American soccer governing body, committed to following FIFA's three-step protocol, which call for match stoppages and PA announcements whenever the chant is heard; temporary match suspensions – with players returning to locker rooms – if the chant is heard again; and forfeits if it arises a third time.

The chant was heard multiple times at Mexico's June 3 and 6 games against Costa Rica and the U.S., but at each match, officials only enacted Step 1 once.

De Luisa told Yahoo Sports last month that he worried about FIFA sanctions. "Absolutely," he said. "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.'"

He reiterated that concern again at a news conference Friday, laying out consequences that could follow beyond empty stadiums: point deductions, forfeits, or disqualification from competitions. When asked whether more sanctions could stem from the June games, De Luisa said the federation was awaiting more information from FIFA.

But he was clear: "If we don't stop this now, the effect it could have on the Mexican soccer industry could be devastating."

Head coach Tata Martino added: "We're very worried. We're worried about what's coming, about the sanctions that could possibly be next, and because we don't want to be pulled away from our fans. Any national team that wants to accomplish important things depends on its players and its fans."

The final round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying, featuring eight teams in a double-round-robin format, begins in September and finishes in March. Each team plays 14 matches. Mexico's home game against the U.S. is not until the third-to-last round of qualifying next March.

The 2022 World Cup will begin next November and December in Qatar, a country where homosexuality is illegal. FIFA has not publicly acknowledged Qatar's poor record on discrimination and human rights, nor publicly pushed for change in the host nation.