Another shameful night of homophobic chants reaffirms that soccer is failing the LGBTQ community

The video board displays a message that the game has been stopped due to discriminatory chanting during Thursday’s CONCACAF Nations League semifinal between the USMNT and Mexico in Las Vegas. (Photo by John Todd/USSF/Getty Images for USSF)

PARADISE, Nev. — The email snuck into inboxes at 3:45 p.m., with Lucha Libre masks already donned and tailgates in full swing. Mexican soccer had attracted them to Las Vegas. Thousands of fans had converged, as they always do, with passion and verve. And nobody had warned them about any consequences for their most despicable tradition, the “p***” chant, an anti-gay slur that seems to mar El Tri games everywhere the men’s national team goes.

That is, until a few hours prior to kickoff.

CONCACAF, after years of inaction, had the gall to issue a news release promoting a “highly impactful ‘What’s Wrong is Wrong’ anti-discrimination campaign,” which has “largely focused on a core aim of discouraging derogatory chants in stadiums.”

At the time, it sounded laughable.

By the end of the night, it was shameful and ironic.

The chant boomed across Allegiant Stadium during Mexico’s 3-0 loss to the U.S. on Thursday, and highlighted the gravity of this decades-old problem for the umpteenth time. It initially triggered ignorable messages on video boards and PA announcements. Then it crescendoed. U.S. goalkeeper Matt Turner could tell it was coming, and threw his arms in the air, exasperated and helpless. On the third or fourth occasion, it triggered a brief pause in play, but then a restart.

And so of course, the chant came again. And again.

Mercifully, with the game out of reach and the situation out of control, referee Ivan Barton blew his whistle to spare us any more discomfort, any more hate. He’d done so five minutes early, prompting speculation that he’d enacted Step 3 of the oft-discussed, never-imposed three-step protocol, which calls for the abandonment of a match if Step 2, the temporary suspension, fails to quell the homophobia.

But no, CONCACAF officials later clarified: the match had not been abandoned.

The ref had just ended it at his “discretion,” and CONCACAF would put out a statement later, and rinse, repeat, rinse, repeat; the chant will soon reappear.

Because nobody in a position of power has the courage to take ownership of this scourge and end it.

Nobody in a position of power has ever truly prioritized the creation of a safe, welcoming environment for LGBTQ fans over the money-making status quo.

USMNT’s Christian Pulisic drew the fans’ ire after scoring a goal in Thursday’s dominant win over Mexico. (Photo by Ethan Miller/USSF/Getty Images for USSF)

CONCACAF said in its statement that it “strongly condemns the discriminatory chanting by some fans,” but it has never taken meaningful action to stop that chanting.

Even when it added that “security staff ejected several fans for engaging in unacceptable behavior in the stadium,” it did not specify that this “unacceptable behavior” was homophobia, as opposed to the many brawls and hurled beer cups that also marred the show.

“These incidents were extremely disappointing and tarnished what should have been a positive occasion to showcase high-quality football in our region,” CONCACAF said. Perhaps, then, it might consider something more than its “highly impactful anti-discrimination campaign,” which is clearly anything but impactful. (It apparently comprises “creative videos,” “engaging content” and “inspiring stories”; it never mentions homophobia.)

Years upon years of evidence have demonstrated that public messaging alone cannot eradicate rampant, culturally ingrained bigotry. Advocate after advocate, therefore, has called for harsher punishments. The Mexican soccer federation (FMF), which for years has allowed this plague to fester, outlined some worthwhile ideas in 2021: Inescapable pregame warnings, coupled with increased security and ejections broadcast on jumbotrons.

At the time, CONCACAF also promised an effective campaign.

“The goalkeeper chant has no place in the game and we want to leave it in the past,” a CONCACAF spokesman told Yahoo Sports then.

Two years later, it is very much present. It’s overpowering. And it’s unbearable.

Because each of the three organizations partially responsible for this — CONCACAF, FMF and FIFA — is fond of talking but afraid to act. And CONCACAF is the worst of the three. It has never followed through on the three-step protocol:

1. Pause the game
2. If the chant continues, send players to the locker room
3. If it still continues, abandon the match

And it has never legitimately threatened sporting sanctions, much less levied any. FIFA, at least, has forced El Tri to play World Cup qualifiers in empty stadiums; but neither governing body has ever docked points or dumped Mexico out of a competition.

And so, they have an increasingly urgent problem. It’s an inclusivity problem and a crowd-control problem bundled up into one malignant ball. The 2026 men’s World Cup is coming to North America. Dozens of FIFA officials watched Thursday, hopefully in disgust tinged with worry.

Fans look on as players from Mexico and the United States scuffle as a referee hands out a red card in the second half of their game during the 2023 CONCACAF Nations League semifinals at Allegiant Stadium on June 15, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Ethan Miller/USSF/Getty Images for USSF)

U.S. Soccer, by its own rules, could and should take responsibility too. A new policy, unanimously approved by the board of directors last year, stipulates that if supporters of a given team “engage in a discriminatory chant at an international match in the United States, then that team will not be permitted to play an international match in the United States for a period of 2 years.” That presumably applies to Mexico, whose fans also belted the slur in unison at a friendly in San Diego last Saturday. By law, shouldn’t El Tri be banned from playing stateside games until 2025?

Then again, the entire history of the chant’s permanence is a history of shirked responsibility, so who knows. It’s a familiar history of straight white men, the ones who predominate soccer governance, failing to understand a minority community’s struggle — just as they do with anti-Black racism.

CONCACAF concluded its statement with a promise: “The Confederation is in the process of urgently establishing further details and reports from security and match officials and will make a further statement in short order.”

But there was no promise of change, no promise of real action; and even if there was, there has never been any reason to believe in it.

“No more statements,” the American Outlaws, the largest U.S. national team supporters’ group, wrote in response to CONCACAF, echoing frustrations throughout soccer. “Our sport is about diversity and inclusion. The behavior of Mexico supporters and players are an embarrassment to the development of the game. You have created a dangerous and unwelcoming environment for new fans. Please make changes. Now.”


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