FIFA, the governing body of the World Cup, says it has zero tolerance for racist and homophobic conduct by players and fans at this year's international soccer event.
Late last week, FIFA opened an investigation into the display of neo-Nazi banners by both Russian and Croat fans at the World Cup. And Brazil and Mexico face possible sanctions for chanting a homophobic slur during their match last week. But soccer fans say the world is misinterpreting the use of the word and their team spirit.
When Brazil's goalie Julio Cesar prepared to blast a goal kick during last Tuesday's game against Mexico, fans raised their pitch and, just before the point of contact, took a big collective breath and screamed the Spanish word for male prostitute or whore.
In return, Brazilian fans began slinging verbal attacks, too. Europe's FARE network, an anti-discrimination group, reported the slur to FIFA, which launched an investigation.
Mexico's soccer coach, Miguel Herrera, insisted to reporters that the word is not that bad, and just a way for fans to put pressure on the opposing team's goalie.
Besides, fans will be fans, and there is nothing officials can do to stop such expressions, said the director of Mexico's national team, Hector Gonzalez Inarritu, to Medio Tiempo.
Inarritu insists the word is not discriminatory or in any way aggressive; it's just an insult like thousands used around the world.
Writers and artists decried the practice on social media and the airwaves, calling it unfortunate mob mentality and definitely offensive. But on a noisy strip of bars in Mexico City's trendy Condesa neighborhood, it was hard to find that condemnation among soccer fans.
Antonio de Luna, a 23-year-old medical student, says the word has different meanings depending on your tone. He uses it all the time and has never meant it as an attack on gays. His friends agree and say FIFA is unfairly attacking Mexico.
Croatia and Russia could face point deductions for neo-Nazi symbols displayed at their respective World Cup openers. A FIFA official said on Friday that there is zero tolerance for any form of discrimination, including that based on sexual orientation.
Mike Woitalla, editor of Soccer America magazine, says the governing body has been fairly responsive to racist acts.
"I think they have been very slow to react to homophobic chants, and it is reassuring and welcoming that at this [World Cup], FIFA has responded and we will see how this plays out," Woitalla says.
Brazil and Mexico will mostly likely receive warnings, usually given for a first offense. But Woitalla says Mexican fans have been chanting the slur for years, and the practice has spread across the border. Univision, the U.S. Spanish language network, often mutes the sound before a goal kick in matches with the visiting Mexican team.
"The Mexican team is playing wonderful soccer, and their fans are traditionally wonderful fans, and right now, with this chant, they are bringing shame upon themselves," Woitalla says.
Mexico City sports fans resolutely disagree, and say FIFA is imposing political correctness and doesn't get Mexico's enthusiasm.
"We are Latinos, we get excited. They just want us to be like soldiers and take all the emotion out of the game," says 32-year-old Jimena Gonzalez.
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