If you witnessed any Mexico game in the last decade or so, the problem will have felt intractable. The chant was so deeply ingrained in El Tri’s supporter culture that there was surely no getting rid of it. Every time the opposing goalkeeper took a kick, it rung through the stadium, loudly and in unison, each time with more gusto than the last.
We’re not going to print the exact word here. It starts with a P. And it’s a gay slur, more or less meaning male prostitute. It’s deeply offensive. And, far less importantly, it’s cost the Mexican federation fine after fine. During World Cup qualifying alone, Mexico was fined 12 times.
There are plenty of stakeholders who want to rid themselves of the hateful chant. It’s gotten so bad that TV broadcasters routinely turn down the crowd noise during those kicks to de-emphasize the outcry. The Mexican federation has spoken out against it and threatened fans caught chanting it that they wouldn’t be able to buy or use World Cup tickets. Groups like Pancho Villa’s Army try to raise awareness among members and reason with them not to use the slur.
But the chant is almost universal and its users insist that they mean no offense. Rather, they say the word should be construed as meaning “coward” and that it’s a cultural utterance. But many, like Pancho Villa’s Army founder Sergio Tristan, point out that the chant has only been around for a decade or so. And, truthfully, a slur is still a slur, whether you mean it as one or not. Try as you might, there’s no obfuscating hate speech.
Mexico’s stunning 1-0 upset of Germany in its World Cup opener on Sunday was blighted by the chant — much like El Tri’s games in 2014 in Brazil were — and FIFA has acted on the ugly utterance with a $10,000 fine, little more than a rounding error for Mexico’s federation.
The governing body’s toothless response is exactly what’s allowed the chant to endure. While FIFA would be within its rights and precedent to ban individual fans from stadiums, order empty-stadium games or even deduct Mexico points or ban it from tournaments entirely, it has never gone beyond small fines. And at the last World Cup, Mexico’s chanting wasn’t punished at all.
But in spite of FIFA’s shameful abdication on its responsibility for clearing its stadiums of anti-gay sentiment, it seems like, suddenly, momentum is building toward ending the chant regardless. Sufficiently embarrassed by it, Mexico players are speaking out.
On Thursday, captain Andres Guardado tweeted a suggestion that fans stop using the chant.
Demostremos que como mexicanos nuestros valores son de respeto y cordialidad. Nos han recibido con los brazos abiertos, es hora de mostrar que somos excelentes visitantes. pic.twitter.com/pjyPWKPsDF
— Andrés Guardado (@AGuardado18) June 21, 2018
And on Tuesday, midfielder Marco Fabian implored fans to do the same.
He offered the iconic Mexican Cielito Lindo folk song as an alternative, per ESPN. Or, more simply, “Mexico.” (A Mexican beer company, meanwhile, would like fans to chant “Putin” instead of that other P-word, as a topical Russia joke.)
On Wednesday, Fabian followed up with a tweet.