What many Americans do not fully understand is the cultural significance and political power that the sport of soccer holds in the large majority of the world. The fact of the matter is that while in the United States plenty of children dream of suiting up in one of the Big Four leagues (football, basketball, baseball or hockey), in much of South and Central America, soccer is the ONLY major sport and as a result, it serves not only as a ticket to immense fame but a way out of a less than desirable future. Soccer's importance throughout Europe and parts of Asia are also felt not only in terms of cultural significance but also because of their massive prominence in the financial landscape of countries. In Europe alone, almost 70 professional soccer leagues operate. Revenue wise, large leagues such as England's Premier League, Italy's Serie A and Germany's Bundasliga annually haul in upwards of two billion dollars from ticket sales, team fees and television contracts that are now becoming more and more popular in European nations.
FIFA to investigate World Cup gay slurs
Fans were chanting "puto" during the game between the two teams, and could face FIFA discipline.
¡Puto! Mexican soccer fans chant gay slur
The Mexico crowd yells the slur at the opposing goalie and you can hear it on the TV broadcast.
FIFA to investigate World Cup gay slurs ¡Puto! Mexican soccer fans chant gay slur
Throughout the world of soccer, money is bountiful, fans are rabid and onlookers are constantly mesmerized by the athleticism that many of the sports players possess as they race up and down a massive pitch for an hour and a half with little or no rest. This sport that is cemented within the hearts and minds of billions of people across the globe is hailed as beautiful for many reasons. But at the same time, it is not perfect. Hidden by the screams of immense devotion and a kind of fandom passed down through generations are many flaws.
Soccer fans are probably familiar with the wide acceptance of bribery in the host selection process for the World Cup just as they are familiar with the many scandals involving match fixing through time. What soccer fans might also know but might not at the same time is the strain of racism in the sport. Just months before the World Cup, one of the biggest incidents of racism in recent soccer history took place when Ghana native Kevin-Prince Boateng walked off the pitch citing racial abuse from fans and players. Weeks later, Italian superstar Mario Baotelli made racial abuse directed at him public once again in an interview with an Italian soccer team.
The good news for the victims of match fixing and racism in soccer is the fact that the world's most powerful soccer organization, FIFA, has at least made it look like they will take action against such transgressions. Most anyone who has watched a FIFA sanctioned game in the past few years has seen the banners proclaiming "Say no to racism" right up against the pitch. In fact, in the past two World Cups since the Say No to Racism campaign began, FIFA has used the program to bolster its public image and portray itself as a league fighting for a better, more equal future. The campaign however is largely all talk. Since 2010, FIFA has not gone any farther than a fine in reaction to any incidents of racial discrimination or harassment in its games. But talk is better than silence.
While discrimination or harassment because of sexual orientation is prohibited under the dictations of Article Three in the FIFA rule book, discipline for such actions has almost never come and very little noise is actually made about such harassment in the sport.
One example of this is the controversy surrounding the chanting of the word "puto" by Mexican and Brazilian soccer fans when an opposing goalie takes a goal kick. While the meaning of the word as it is used by Mexican fans is being debated in the media, a common consensus is that puto is an insulting Spanish word used to describe someone as cowardly or weak. Additionally, most people familiar with Spanish language and colloquial slang seem to agree that puto almost always carries a homophobic connotation with it. They seem to agree that puto refers to someone as unmasculine in the same way that calling someone a faggot does. While the person the word is being said to may not be gay, its roots lie in a culture of homophobia and its use at a soccer game is appalling.
Moving beyond just the game though, I personally am almost more offended by the defense of the fans using this word in the media. Arguments have been made that this word has a double meaning and has no association with homophobia anymore. It has also been said that puto was never tied to the gay community in any way. Though I claim no expertise in the field of Spanish profanity, the reactions of actual gay Mexicans after this argument went mainstream surely proves that puto is a slur that offends and attacks their personality. This goes back to the age old argument that it is the offended not the offender who decides the hateful and offensive connotations of a word.
Finally, going back to the argument that puto no longer refers to homosexuality in any way I point towards similar arguments made in defense of English homophobic slurs like faggot or the exclamation of "that's so gay". The people who say those kinds of words at times say so in reaction to things that have nothing to do with homosexuality. But regardless, no matter the context, saying such a word in any kind of taunting or hateful tone is offensive to a gay person. Puto is like that in every way.
But unfortunately for the world, not everyone thinks that way and it is the frame of mind that this is all okay coupled with the fact that FIFA takes no action against homophobia that helps things like the puto chant persist for this long.
Mexican coach Miguel Herrera said that this chant is a part of Mexican soccer. "Its not that bad" he said "We're with our fans. It's something they do to pressure the opposing goalkeeper.''
But what happens when it turns out the goalie is gay or when heck, one of the millions upon millions of people watching these games is gay and is rightfully offend by the use of the word? They stop watching, they talk negatively about the league. FIFA though does not apparently see that as something that could happen. So they let things like this go on unchecked. And that kind of rampant hate can and already has turned infections simply because once players leave the jurisdiction of FIFA, they bring the lack of acceptance that was not punished there back to their leagues.
As highlighted by a series of reporting by SB Nation's Outsports even teammates shunned and refused to respect gay teammates like they deserved. Earlier this month, a player in Germany's Under 19 Bundesliga said that after he was outed by teammates, his teammates would wait until after he left the locker room to shower. Additionally, Arsenal coach Arsene Wenger said that "Because of that media interest, maybe no one will come out. You have to consider now that, in a society where you have gay marriage, why should people not come out? For me, it is not a problem because what is important is how a player behaves, how much he loves football and how much he respects his partners. That's what the game is about."
While that statement is not exactly hateful it eludes to the fact that many in the soccer world believe that the sport is "toxic" to gay people and that idea is. Weather it is truthful or not, no sport should be toxic to anybody. Your sexual orientation should have nothing to do with a sporting event and if soccer is in fact toxic than every league must work to change that.
They say it starts from the top and in the soccer world; FIFA is the (incompetent) top of the soccer heap. So, with soccer's homophobia epidemic now raging through the sport that serves as the platform for thousands of role models for billions of people worldwide, it is time for that top to take action. The fans that chanted puto during the Mexico game must be punished for their actions just as the coach who defended those fans must be punished. Across the pond in Germany, coaches and teammates must stand up for their friend and stop an kind of discrimination against him and in the Premier League these players need to stop the trash talk and leave sexual preference out of a game with nothing to do with it.
But as I said, it all starts from the top. FIFA needs to do more than talk. It is time for there to be consequences for homophobia in soccer.