The Spanish-language chant of puto was used more ferociously than ever among Mexico fans at the World Cup this week, despite the controversy that has surrounded the word during this year’s tournament — perhaps proving that the prohibition of something only breeds a desire for more of it.
On Monday, just before Mexico faced off against Croatia in Recife, Brazil, soccer's international governing body FIFA ceased its investigation into the Mexican team over the use of the allegedly homophobic chant “Ehhhh, Puto!”
The investigation began as a result of behavior during Mexico’s opening games, when the team’s fans launched the cry against opponent kickers during the Mexico vs. Cameroon and Mexico vs. Brazil games.
Puto means male prostitute in its crudest, literal sense and the word is also used as slang for "fag." It was first used by rowdy fans during soccer games in Guadalajara in 2004 — including an Olympics qualifying match against the US, Mexico’s bitter soccer rival.
From there, it spread throughout Mexico’s professional soccer league.
The use of puto is aimed at goalies because to score a goal in Spanish is to “put in” against the goalie, language that eventually got linked to the act of homosexual anal sex.
Mexican fans say their use has no homophobic intent, but rather suggests cowardice — like shouting “Chicken!” in the United States — and is ultimately meant only to distract opponents on goalie kicks.
Threats by FIFA to sanction Mexican fans for shouting puto sparked a flurry of national debate in recent days over the meaning and effect of a term that Mexico’s federal anti-discrimination commission (Conapred) calls derogatory and anti-gay.
“It reflects homophobia, machismo, and misogyny, which still reign in our society,” Conapred said in a statement.
Since last week, prominent figures in Mexico's soccer sphere came out to defend the fans’ use of the chant, including national coach Miguel Herrera.
“They do it to pressure the rival goalkeeper, it is not that severe,” Herrera told reporters on Friday.
FIFA said it determined that shouting the phrase from the stands is not in violation of their disciplinary code and that Mexico’s national team would not be held liable for the behavior of their fans.
“The FIFA disciplinary committee has decided that the incident in question is not considered insulting in this specific context,” the governing body said in a statement.
“They don’t understand Mexican idiosyncrasy and football as a way of life in Mexico."
During Mexico’s match against Croatia on Monday, cries of puto were heard seemingly louder than what was heard at any prior World Cup match. Fans also reportedly chanted puto as each Croation player was introduced from the field before the match began.
Mexican fans in Brazil — a wave of compadres, wrapped in Mexican flags, and wearing masks and sombreros — told VICE News that the use of puto at games has been culturally misinterpreted.
“They don’t understand Mexican idiosyncrasy and football as a way of life in Mexico. This has nothing to do with homophobia,” said Cesar Sotomayor, a 25-year-old man from Jalisco, a state that last month rejected an anti-discrimination bill in the local legislature.
“Yelling ‘puto’ is a form of support.”
Some said they actually consider the cry crucial to their team’s victory.
“Yelling ‘puto’ is a form of support,” said Puebla resident Jorge Cantos, 53, who attended the World Cup in Brazil with his 10-year-old son.
FIFA did not offer additional details on how it reached the conclusion to allow Mexico’s fans to keep using puto. And by the sound of the roaring chants heard on television each time Croatia kicked on Monday, there is nothing to suggest the practice is going away anytime soon.
What is perhaps not going away is the debate the controversy has sparked in Mexico.
VICE Mexico columnist Oscar David Lopez argued Tuesday that the use of the term reveals another case of “double morals” in Mexico, since many fans defending the derogatory chant were also the sort of macho dudes who tweeted messages saying they would love to sexually service Memo Ochoa, Mexico’s star goalie.
Some complex theories and explanations have also surfaced to justify the use of the word. One analysis circulating on social media reminded readers that Mexicans employ puto and the feminine form puta —meaning female sex worker or hooker—to curse the rain, traffic, bosses at the office, or even their best friends.
“We say it without thinking of a man penetrating another,” soccer writer Mauricio Cabrera argued. “What’s more, we don’t even say it to them [gay men], at least not to their faces. We’ve been educated to be respectful when we detect a gay man among us. Except when one is our friend, which then is allowed.”
Reporter Andalusia Knoll contributed to this story from Rio de Janiero.
Image via Flickr