The World Cup is a lot more than just soccer. It is a global celebration and in many regards, a showcase of cultures, not just from the host country but from all nations participating in it.
While Mexico did not become the World Cup soccer champion in Brazil, international media sources did call it the champion of social media, as one of the nations with some of the most social media chatter and memes during the tournament. The flourishing of social media has made Mexico renown in all corners of the globe, in ways that traditional media has not.
Unfortunately, not all of our portrayals are positive. During Brazil 2014, some Mexican fans chose to display their “cultural humor” in ways that could be considered hateful or homophobic—including taunting goalkeepers by calling them “puto,” a derogatory term used frequently at soccer matches in Mexico. The Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) even opened up an investigation to evaluate if the Mexican soccer federation should be fined for promoting discrimination through the use of this taunt (in the end, FIFA decided against it, determining that the federation could not be held liable for spectators’ conduct).
More relevant than the debate over FIFA’s decision about the chant is the fans’ reaction to it. Instead of questioning the use of the word and our projection of Mexican culture to the world, many Mexican soccer fans decided to bask in the glory of their ability to insult others.Mexican media headlines glorified the offensive chant; we created hundreds of memes making fun of FIFA, and the fans attending a subsequent Mexico match intensified the use of the slur. While some prominent Mexicans—like actor Diego Luna and journalist Álvaro Cueva—spoke out publicly against the offensive slur, the message from many Mexican soccer fans was clear: we don’t care what FIFA thinks, we are going to amuse ourselves by insulting opponents on the international stage.
At times, the Mexican government has had to intervene on behalf of its misbehaving fans. In the 1998 World Cup in France, a Mexican tourist extinguished the eternal flame burning under Paris’ Arc de Triomphe by urinating on it causing an international uproar that ended with a formal apology from the Mexican Minister of Foreign Relations. In South Africa in 2010, a Mexican fan who had spent more than $7,700 on his flight to South Africa, lost the chance to see his team play after being arrested for placing a large sombrero and zarape on a statue of Nelson Mandela. Since this act was taken as an international offense, the Mexican Foreign Ministry had to step up, once again, and apologize to its counterpart in South Africa.
These types of stories are not exclusive to the Brazil 2014 World Cup—nor is offensive behavior exclusive to fans from Mexico. Despite FIFA’s “Say No to Racism” campaign, a man with neo-Nazi markings ran onto the field during the match between Germany and Ghana—where some German fans were seen in blackface—and some Russian and Croatian fans were seen holding anti-Semitic and neo-Nazi banners. “Hooligan culture” has a long history in many soccer-loving countries.
Mexican culture has always been synonymous with celebration, joy and festivities. We are globally considered free-spirited and happy, and that’s ok. But there is a fine line between being free-spirited and being unruly. When we celebrate and cheer on examples of cultural insensitivity during an international event such as the World Cup, we should really think about the type of culture Mexico wants to show the rest of the world—and the effect that this might have on our ability to discuss subjects far more serious than a soccer tournament, such as racism and homophobia.
Mexico’s participation in this World Cup is now over and we have four long years ahead of us to build a new project for the tournament in Russia. Can we try to behave and bring less embarrassment to ourselves in the future?