Ugliness in International Soccer

A long tradition continues unabated.

AP (“CONCACAF Nations League final twice stopped because of homophobic chants in pro-Mexican crowd“):

The U.S.-Mexico CONCACAF Nations League final match was suspended in the late stages for the second straight year because of homophobic chants by pro-Mexican fans.

Canadian referee Drew Fischer stopped play in the 88th minute of the United States’ 2-0 victory in Sunday night’s final, played before a crowd of 59,471 at AT&T Stadium.

Play resumed after a 4 1/2-minute wait, and Fischer halted it again six minutes into stoppage time. Play restarted 1 1/2 minutes later and the match was played until conclusion in the ninth minute of added time.

“CONCACAF condemns the discriminatory chanting,” the regional governing body of North and Central America and the Caribbean said in a statement. “Security staff in the stadium identified and ejected a significant number of fans, and the referee and match officials activated the FIFA protocol. … It is extremely disappointing that this matter continues to be an issue at some matches.”

U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter and players were hit by debris while celebrating Gio Reyna’s goal that built a two-goal lead.

“That was unfortunate because we want a really competitive game, we want a great atmosphere but we don’t want to get things thrown at us,” Berhalter said. “It’s unsafe and someone can get hurt.”

Last year’s semifinal at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas was stopped by Salvadoran referee Iván Barton in the eighth minute of a scheduled 12 minutes of stoppage time with the U.S. ahead 3-0.

CONCACAF issued a statement the next day that it “strongly condemns the discriminatory chanting by some fans,” which it said “has no place in our sport.” The regional governing body did not appear to announce any disciplinary action.

The Mexican Football Federation last month challenged financial penalties totaling 100,000 Swiss francs ($114,000) imposed by FIFA for incidents at two games at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. FIFA imposed a 50,000 Swiss francs fine with an additional 50,000 francs to be spent on a campaign educating fans.

FIFA has repeatedly held the Mexican soccer federation responsible, handing out fines and closing stadiums for games after incidents in qualifying matches for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups and for Olympic qualifying.

A bit confused by the vagueness of the reporting, I did some quick searching and found Simon Borg‘s Sporting News report “Explaining the homophobic chant that has Mexico’s soccer federation in hot water with FIFA.”

In a practice believed to have started among fans in the early 2000s — one outlet highlights a 2004 Olympic qualifier between the USA and Mexico — Mexican national team fans join in unison to shout a Spanish-language homophobic slur (“p***,” which roughly translates to “gay prostitute”) when an opposing goalkeeper puts the ball into play on a goal kick. The chant is supposedly meant to intimidate the ‘keeper and the opposing team.

The argument for years was that the word has multiple cultural meanings in Mexico and other Spanish-speaking countries and that it is not intended as a homophobic slur when used by fans in a stadium.

But there’s no getting around the fact that it’s a derogatory term that’s demeaning to the gay community. FIFA and anti-discrimination groups have made that much clear, and the Mexican soccer federation (FMF) has also recognized it and is taking action.

“It’s not the intention with which you shout or with which you chant. It’s how the other [people] receive it,” then Mexican federation president Yon de Luisa told media in 2021. “If anybody feels it’s a discriminatory act, then it is not something that we should include in a conversation. That is no longer a debate. If it is discriminatory, we should avoid it.”

In conjunction with soccer authorities and match organizers, the FMF is working to eradicate the chant from its matches with the knowledge that failure to do so could result in escalating punishment from world governing body FIFA.

So, it’s not aimed at any particular player on the US or any other team; it’s just a vulgar chant apparently intended to intimidate opponents.

And it’s not just the Mexican fans acting abhorrently despite routine warnings and multiple sanctions.

AP (“Vinícius still a target for racial abuse ahead of Spain’s ‘One Skin’ game against Brazil“):

Vinícius Júnior clenched his right fist and raised it high above his head after scoring at Mestalla Stadium, posing for a moment to make sure everyone noticed.

The symbolic gesture in early March came nearly a year after the Real Madrid forward was on that same field with tears in his eyes after being racially abused by some Valencia fans.

That incident sparked an outpouring of support for the Brazil forward, who is Black, and set off widespread calls for action by Spanish authorities and society in general.

At the time, many saw it as a turning point in the fight against racism in Spanish soccer.

But some 10 months later, Vinícius has continued to be subjected to racist abuse in Spain despite the initial uproar that accompanied the incident at Mestalla.

That lack of progress will be noted when Spain hosts Brazil at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium on Tuesday. The international friendly was originally set up under the theme “One Skin” following the racial abuse aimed at Vinícius last year.

“We haven’t fully advanced,” said Esteban Ibarra, president of the Movement Against Intolerance, Racism and Xenophobia in Spain. “There was some response, but it wasn’t a significant step forward. In the end, if there still is a dominant feeling of impunity, the fans will keep acting the same way as before.”


A couple of weeks ago, there were reports of racist chants targeting Vinícius outside the stadiums of Atletico Madrid and Barcelona before Champions League games that didn’t even involve Real Madrid.

Vinícius retweeted a video that showed a few Atletico fans jumping and chanting “Vinícius chimpanzee,” and a day earlier some Barcelona fans allegedly chanted “Die, Vinícius.”

“I hope you have already thought about their punishment,” Vinícius said at the time on X, formerly Twitter, and tagged the Champions League and European soccer governing body UEFA. “It’s a sad reality that happens even in games where I’m not present!”

There were also reported hate chants of “Die, Vinícius” in Madrid’s Spanish league match at Osasuna on March 16. Real Madrid called the game’s referee “negligent” for not including the chants in his match report. The club also reported them — as well as those alleged chants by Atletico and Barcelona fans — to the prosecutor’s office for hate crimes.

“We must continue to fight to eradicate racism and it is a daily struggle to prevent players like Vinícius or any other from experiencing episodes of intolerance,” Spain defender Álex Grimaldo said Sunday.

Some of Vinícius’ opponents contend his aggressive playing style — not uncommon for a forward — and clashes with the opposition have made him a bigger target for fans. Vinícius often gets into verbal altercations and more than once was seen responding to fans’ provocations from the stands.

There was some movement in the cases against fans accused of insulting Vinícius last year, including the four hardcore Atletico fans who allegedly hanged an effigy of the player off a highway bridge in Madrid.

They were taken into custody in the wave of arrests sparked by the incident against Vinícius in Mestalla, and prosecutors have sought four-year prison sentences against them.

Homophobic chants are bad enough. Death threats and throwing of debris simply can’t be tolerated. This is literally criminal conduct, not simple boorishness, that’s going unchecked.

Stopping play in a game that the offending fans’ team is losing is hardly punishment. Indeed, it stops the momentum of the winning team.

Still, controlling the behavior of tens of thousands of people is, to say the least, challenging.

To take a less serious example, it’s a longstanding tradition at my alma mater, the University of Alabama, to play “Dixieland Delight” during a play stoppage in the 4th quarter of football games. The crowd sings along, inserting some amusing commentary. * Alas, at one point, fans (mostly in the student section) yell “F- Auburn!” multiple times.

The University took various measures to stop this, to no avail. Eventually, they stopped playing the song entirely. Which had limited effect because it turns out that yelling “F- Auburn” doesn’t require any particular musical accompaniment. Long story short, they eventually brought the song back and simply play “Beat Auburn!” loudly from the public address system so that the version coming from the student section doesn’t make it on television.

To take a more serious example, the UK has more or less curtailed the scourge of soccer hooliganism for which it had long been infamous. A 2022 report from Sports History Weekly reminds us,

During the 1980s, Great Britain’s Margaret Thatcher identified 3 profound ills that plagued her country: the IRA, striking miners, and football hooligans.

Paradoxically, it was the heyday of English soccer. Clubs from across the channel had won 7 of 8 European Cups between 1977 and 1984, but their glory on the field was at odds with the disgraceful behavior of their fans off the field.

It all came to a head on May 29, 1985 at the European Cup final, which pitted two storied football teams, Liverpool and Italy’s Juventus.

Shortly before kickoff in Brussels’ Heysel Stadium, a mob of drunken Liverpudlians charged their Italian counterparts in the stands, creating a melee that resulted in the death of 39 fans and hundreds injured after a wall collapsed.

It was the worst hooligan disaster on record. Within days, the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) moved to ban all English clubs from competing in the continent for the next 5 years.

Thatcher supported the decision, saying: “We have to get the game cleaned up from this hooliganism at home and then perhaps we shall be able to go overseas again.”

The government and the sport’s governing authorities took a number of measures, including redesigning the spectator sections of stadia, restricting alcohol sales, the use of CCTV to track down and punish offenders, and a registration system for ticket sales to make it easier to keep repeat offenders out of matches. There has been a bit of a resurgence of violence of late, apparently due to white nationalist types organizing it, but it’s nothing like it was four decades ago.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. EddieInCA says:

    I’m a huge fan of international futbol*. But the leadership of global soccer is corrupt as hell. The racism issue is huge, and it gets ignored, sadly, way too much. Players like Vinicius, Jr, Neymar, Pogba, Rashford, are routinely hit with racist abuse at matches away from home.

    But, as stated, the leadership in pretty much all the national federations, and certainly FIFA internationally, is corrupt, and it’s well known and accepted as to how corrupt they actually are. Why else would they put a world cup on Qatar.

    As long as the dollars are flowing into the coffers of UEFA, FIFA and US Soccer, nothing will happen to rectify the racial abuse.

    England was able to largely end the hooliganism of the 1970’s and 80’s. FIFA and UEFA could do the same. They just don’t have the will.

    *I follow Manchester United, Wrexham and Barcelona. Been fortunate enough to go to Old Trafford and Camp Nou. Made it to Wrexham last year, but couldn’t get a ticket to a match while I was there.

  2. Gavin says:

    Don’t forget the wild gratuitousness of the leader of the Spanish football federation grabbing the back of a female player’s head and wrenching her neck to force her to open-mouth kiss him on stage in the middle of a stadium. And no, she didn’t consent to it – he was [and remains] just that entitled. The real cancel culture which has existed for millenia is the thought/feeling of that familyblog being appropriate and OK.

    Don’t be shocked that soccer [and all sports — remember “shut up and dribble” ] has sexism and racism. The new reality is the lack of acceptance of it… and the existing power structures doing anything and everything they can to avoid addressing the content.

    As for Mexico, the Mexican national team is currently barely the level of an MLS playoff team… and everybody gets into the MLS playoffs. Frankly, the Mexican team should have goals assessed against them each time the chant goes down rather than trying to ban the chant. “Oh, you want to chant this? Go for it! Every time refs hear it, the other team gets a goal and the free kick. Enjoy!”

  3. DK says:

    Something is wrong with people.

    Soccer officials not dealing with issue are making a choice. Install cameras, make the rules clear to all who enter the stadium, identify offenders in real time, kick them out during matches, and issue lifetime bans. If that doesn’t work, ban the clubs for a while.

    The foolishness will stop. But not with timid and tepid enforcement.