‘Puto’ can mean several things, depending on the speaker and the context.
Mexico’s soccer governing body will almost certainly be fined by FIFA for fans’ use of an anti-gay slur during Sunday’s victory over Germany in group play, Yahoo Sports is reporting. But the word for which the team is being punished may or may not be an anti-gay slur, depending on whom you ask.
No World Cup is complete without controversy, be it blown calls, dirty play on the field, fan misbehavior, or shenanigans off the field. And in the case of the 2018 Cup, one of the earlier controversies to emerge concerns a supposed anti-gay slur the Mexican fans used. Specifically, the fans, in unison, chanted the word “¡Puto!”
As Yahoo Sports writer Henry Bushnell notes, it’s a tradition in Latin America for fans to yell the naughty word whenever an opposing goalkeeper takes a goal kick.
But as far as FIFA sees it, it’s an anti-gay slur. As such, it violates FIFA’s policy on homophobic and/or hateful speech from fans, and it will cost Mexico.
The problem is, language is at once both fluid and largely dependent on regionalisms. A word that is offensive in one country may be entirely mundane in another country that speaks the same language. For example, “fanny packs” are a much-ridiculed fashion accessory in the U.S., while in British English the word “fanny” has a much more crude meaning. Similarly, the word “puto,” while an anti-gay slur in some forms of Spanish, can also simply mean “man-whore” or even “coward” in other forms of Spanish.
Bushnell is clear that FIFA, soccer’s international governing body, isn’t going to give Mexican fans a pass just because the word is subject to interpretation.
“Simply yelling ‘Coward!’ at a goalkeeper, of course, wouldn’t be cause for punishment. But given the multiple meanings, there is a clear anti-gay implication.”
As it turns out, Mexican fans have been chastised before for using the word. It was an issue during the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, although FIFA didn’t issue any sanctions at the time. Since then, however, the sport’s international governing body has been fining Mexican soccer every time it’s been an issue. In fact, FIFA adjudicated 56 different cases of homophobic slurs by fans during World Cup qualifying, and 12 of those cases involved Mexican fans.
However, Bushnell doesn’t expect Mexico to be fined particularly heavily. The minimum fine for such a violation is $30,000, and since the Yahoo Sports writer accuses FIFA of not taking homophobia seriously enough, he expects Mexico to get the minimum possible punishment.
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