Why FIFA should hit Mexico with harsher penalties for ‘puto’ chants

Two years later, FIFA has finally fined Mexico for fans chanting puto at games. I already explained back in 2014 why this term is offensive and heterosexist. Yes, lots of Mexico fans say they don’t mean it “that way,” but recall the early 1990s when Americans used the word “gay” to mean “stupid”? Yeah, that was offensive. It still is. Puto is no different. The LGBTQ community in Mexico finds the term offensive, has made that point well known, and the so-called “tradition” is less than two decades old. It needs to go and the time is ripe to make it happen. Still, one problem remains: FIFA’s impotency.

Yes, FIFA has no moral perch upon which to stand. Corruption scandals aside, the next two World Cups will be hosted by Russia and Qatar, two countries that are not LGBT friendly. Still, FIFA fining Latin American teams for the puto chant at least puts heterosexism in the same plane as racism, sexism, etc. The symbolic punishment of the term reflects a growing awareness of the issue. Also, it’s progress to see FIFA rejecting the “bro didn’t know” defense. You can’t say puto and not know it’s offensive to LGBTQ folks, unless you willfully close your eyes and ears and avoid members of that community at all times.

Still, I fully expect to hear puto chants at Mexico games for the foreseeable future.

Why? Well, FIFA fined the FMF (Mexican Football Federation) a mere 20,000 Swiss francs for the offensive chants. Not to dump on the almighty Swiss franc, but it exchanges at roughly a 1:1 ratio with the dollar. So, the FMF, a commercial juggernaut with 30 sponsors in the U.S. and Mexico and a predicted annual revenue of $50 million dollars per year from those sponsors, got slapped with a $20,000 fine. Even ignoring revenue from jersey sales and tickets, that fine is 0.0004% of the FMF’s sponsorship revenue. The person at FMF who cuts checks that small also probably gets coffee for the interns and runs the FMF’s lower-tier social media accounts at Myspace and Friendster.

PASADENA, CA - OCTOBER 10: A fan of Mexico stands inside the Rose Bowl before the start of 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup Qualifier between Mexico and United States at Rose Bowl on October 10, 2015 in Pasadena, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

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The fine is too small to affect the FMF, which is pretty clear when you start looking at the fines FIFA has assessed for fan behavior and sporting infractions. For example, FIFA has fined clubs about $30,000 for fans waving a Palestinian flag. FIFA has also fined numerous FAs for racist incidents at games, with the damage normally falling into the $15,000 to $50,000 range. Of course, lots of clubs and FAs earn significantly less than the mammoth FMF and, therefore, fines may be a decent deterrent. However, despite fines and education campaigns, racism continues to tarnish numerous European leagues, notably Spain and Italy. Some escalation needs to happen for repeat offenders.

If FIFA chose to attack discrimination with the vigor it used to shield its own suspect behavior over the last couple of decades, perhaps it could deter offensive fan behavior. FIFA could micromanage things and demand that FAs take necessary steps to identify and ban offending fans. This worked pretty well to de-fang and defeat the blight of hooliganism in the 1980s. FIFA could also just slap even bigger fines on repeat offenders and larger clubs and federations. Would the FMF take eradicating the puto chant more seriously if it looked at a $500,000 or even $1 million fine? Most definitely.

But there’s another option that has already been used at the club level: banning all fans from attendance at the next game. In April 2013, FIFA ordered Dynamo Kiev to play a home game behind closed doors. In a sense, this creates an incentive for fan self-policing. Stare down the puto-chanting prick next to you so he or she won’t ruin it for the rest of us. Also, this is superior to a fine simply based on math: 55,000 fans no longer buying tickets worth, on average, $60 a pop. That’s $3.3 million in lost revenue, not even including parking, concessions, and merchandise.

Of course, FIFA itself is comprised of national associations, so it probably won’t ever sanction any offense that severely. It feeds off the hands of national FAs. Still, there’s lots of wiggle room between a paltry $20,000 fine and a home game stadium ban. Hopefully FIFA can take a second step in the right direction if necessary, and one that’s more than symbolic.