Hundreds of fans came to cheer on San Antonio FC's first game of the season. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone
Hundreds of fans came to cheer on San Antonio FC's first game of the season. Section 118 (pictured) chanted derogatory slurs during the game. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone

Racism has appeared far too often in international soccer over the years, but it’s been easy for the United States to sit back and say that’s an issue for other countries. We’ve seen bans in Spain for monkey chants, overt on-pitch racial slurs by players in England’s Premier League, and more than 200 incidents of discrimination in Russia, but the U.S. has been largely spared from such divisive behavior. Apart from one fan at one Major League Soccer match, the worst incident came in May 2013 when two white Chivas USA coaches filed a discrimination suit against the now-disbanded team.

“MLS has zero tolerance for discrimination or prejudice of any kind and have been deeply committed to diversity and fairness on our fields, in our stadiums and in our workplace,” MLS officials stated after the lawsuit was filed.

If San Antonio truly wants to become an MLS city, local fans will likely have to embrace that commitment.

At least one section of fans at Toyota Field broke into repeated chants of “puto,” a Spanish anti-LGBTQ slur whose English language equivalent is “male whore” or “faggot” or any number of other inflammatory words, depending on your geographic location.

The fans chanted the slur every time the goalkeeper from the visiting Swope Park Rangers took a goal kick in the San Antonio FC’s home opener last Saturday. The trend started locally several years ago while the same section was rooting for the San Antonio Scorpions. Toyota Field is now home to a new team in a new league, but the practice – which takes place in stadiums around the world – has not yet been stopped by team management.

(Read more: City & County Purchase Toyota Field in Bid for MLS Team)

San Antonio FC Managing Director Tim Holt told the Rivard Report that the team was aware of the chants and was already planning to meet with supporter clubs.

“San Antonio FC is committed to creating a safe, comfortable and enjoyable environment for all fans,” Holt stated on Wednesday. “Our fans were exceptional this past weekend, providing a vibrant and organic atmosphere within the stadium.  We will continue to work to ensure that this support occurs within our code of conduct and allows all SAFC fans to fully enjoy their match day experience.”

San Antonio FC fans cheer loudly against Swope Park. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone
San Antonio FC fans cheer loudly during the team’s first home game on Saturday, April 9, 2016. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone Credit: Kathryn Boyd-Batstone / San Antonio Report

Such chants are widely used in soccer stadiums in Mexico, where the practice originated, and throughout Latin America. Some fans shrug off the behavior as harmless heckling and do not consider the chant offensive to anyone, including members of the LGBTQ community. Implementation of a zero-tolerance policy for such crowd behavior involving male and female fans would likely require a special effort by the San Antonio FC club management and officials with the United Soccer League.

“The USL requires that all of its clubs have their own supporter code of conduct. The USL feels strongly that offensive chants do not belong in the game,” USL officials stated in an email on Tuesday. “We urge all our supporters to develop a healthy, vibrant and welcoming environment at all of our games for fans of all ages. We have spoken with San Antonio FC and the team plans to take steps to discuss the issue with its supporters.”

One group of fans that calls itself “Mission City Firm,” for members’ seats in section 118, took to Twitter to defend the chant against other fans that denounced it on social media.

A tweet by @MissionCity_118 on April 9, 2016 at 8:21 p.m.
A tweet by @MissionCity_118 in response to @SetPieces on April 9, 2016 at 8:21 p.m.

“We are a group of all walks of life. Female, male, race, and orientation,” stated a representative of the supporter group in a message via social media. “All are welcome with (Mission City Firm). So to say we are responsible for a homophobic chant is an opinion and not a fact. Our gay members are strong and vocal and they do not agree (that the chant is discriminatory).”

It remains to be seen whether the same fans will persist with the chants.

“Fans at local matches to include MCF partake in a chant that uses the spanish word puto,” they stated. “We agree with countless others that this is not an anti-gay saying. We find it interesting that it is majority of non soccer fans and people who are not from the spanish speaking culture or communities have the biggest opinion on the matter.”

That so-called “puto chant” started in Latin America and has spread quickly. Throughout the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, Mexican fans chanted it, which led to Brazilian fans, who speak Portuguese, chanting it back. Perhaps not all the fans whose first language is not Spanish fully appreciate the nature of the chant. After all, even children joined in Saturday at Toyota Field.

San Antonio FC fans yell "Puto" as Swope Park does a goal kick. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone
Dozens of San Antonio FC fans sitting in section 118 chant “puto” as Swope Park Rangers line up a kick at the goal. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone

Many fans insist that chanting the slur is simply a time-honored Latin American “tradition.” It seems to have started little more than a decade ago during a match in Guadalajara in 2004 during a CONCACAF Olympic qualifying match. Chanting in general during games is, of course, a tradition meant to distract the players and goalkeepers. The chant was originally just the word “pum,” which means nothing, but at that match in Guadalajara the word was altered into a slur and quickly grew popular in Mexico.

Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), caught in the throes of its own corrupt traditions and practices, acknowledged the problem earlier this year when it fined the Argentina, Mexico, Peru and Uruguay and Chile football associations $20,000 because the chant violates article 67 of the FIFA Disciplinary Code:

“The home association or home club is liable for improper conduct among spectators, regardless of the question of culpable conduct or culpable oversight, and, depending on the situation, may be fined. Further sanctions may be imposed in the case of serious disturbances. … Improper conduct includes violence towards persons or objects, letting off incendiary devices, throwing missiles, displaying insulting or political slogans in any form, uttering insulting words or sounds, or invading the pitch.”

Mexico is appealing the fine.

The USL’s rulebook doesn’t include such a code, but it does make an important note:

“All games under league jurisdiction shall be played according to the rules and regulations recognized by the USL, which shall be the same rules set by FIFA and the USSF, except for those exceptions authorized by FIFA and the USSF.”

While this section is specifically referencing game rules, the FIFA regulation concerning “uttering insulting words” could well be interpreted to be a part of this, as there is no USSF or USL regulation overriding that rule.

One important note in the USL disciplinary regulations speaks about the league’s powers, which states, “the USL shall have the authority to suspend, fine, or disqualify players, team officials or competing clubs for violating League rules, or for any action or conduct not in the best interest of soccer or the USL.”

It will likely be up to San Antonio FC management to formulate rules and policies regarding chanting at home games and how opposing teams are treated by soccer fans in San Antonio, a welcoming city that doesn’t tolerate such discrimination anywhere else in the public life of the city. The City updated its nondiscrimination ordinance in 2013 to include protections for sexual orientation, gender identification, and veteran status.

Managing Editor Iris Dimmick contributed to this story, which was originally published on Wednesday, April 14.

Top image: Hundreds of fans came to cheer on San Antonio FC’s first game of the season. Section 118 (pictured) chanted derogatory slurs during the game. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone 

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Chris Hockman

Chris Hockman has been a freelance soccer journalist for over a decade, originally from Australia, Chris quickly started writing about soccer in San Antonio after moving to Texas in 2010. Chris is the...