Luis Miguel Echegaray: Abstaining from the allegedly homophobic puto chant would send a message of unity to a community in desperate need of it
Anyone with a passing acquaintance with football in South and Central America knew it was coming. The Venezuela keeper Dani Hernandez prepared to take a goal kick during his sides Copa Amrica match against Mexico, and down came the chant from the terraces: Ehhhhhh, puto. The phrase roughly translates as fag and its homophobia is unedifying in any context. But on Monday night, the chant had added sting, coming just days after the terrible attack on the LGBT community in Orlando, where 49 people were killed at a gay nightclub. The effect was all the more jarring after a minutes silence had been held in the stadium for the victims of the tragedy.
While the chants implications and historical meaning continue to be a hot debate among Mexican fans and football pundits puto is also a general insult, but in the context of a football game the word is undoubtedly used as a homophobic slur refraining from the chant could have relayed a powerful message after a tragedy whose victims included four Mexican citizens.
Mexican Americans have been showing up in huge numbers to this months Copa Amrica, and their team unbeaten in 22 games are justifiably one of the tournament favorites. More than 80,000 fans attended when El Tri faced Jamaica at the Rose Bowl last week, and there is a sense of home-field advantage every time Mexico enters from the tunnel. This, however, hasnt stopped a lack of empathy from thousands of fans, who still carelessly used puto at a time when the country looks to stand together with citizens from the gay and Latino communities.
From a fan perspective, it is true that football is a place where industrial language and playful repartee can freely exist. It is also true that puto can also mean a coward or a fool. But in this context, it clearly intends to offend in a homophobic way. Similar arguments are made by fans of English football, such as the antisemitic Yid Army chants directed at Spurs fans, but we have moved on as a society, and vulgarity should never excuse ignorance.
There have been campaigns to stop the puto chant, which is not limited to Mexico. Before the tournament began, Mexicos soccer federation in collaboration with the national team launched the campaign Ya prale (another traditional Mexican phrase meaning Stop now) which aimed to put an end to the chant. But so far, it has not worked: it is still heard at every game.
Fifa fined Mexico last year as a result of the same actions by their fans during a Concacaf qualifying match against El Salvador. Peru, Uruguay, Argentina and Chile were also fined over similar incidents.
The truth is that the issue, much like racism, runs far deeper than fines or bans. It lives far beyond the gates of football stadiums and requires practical and educational solutions from the federation, aimed at reaching communities at grassroots level. This is a tough task, which will require money, time, and, most importantly, collective effort. A video will not be enough.
Before defending the sanctity and cultural importance of the chant, fans could perhaps ask themselves: What if we didnt say it? What if we stopped the chant? The answer is simple. Your teams performance will not suffer, you will still hopefully play beautiful soccer, you would still be proud of them. But more importantly, you will send a message of unity to a community who desperately need it right now.