Mexico and FIFA go back to sports court in decadelong dispute over soccer fans’ gay slurs

GENEVA — A decadelong dispute between the Mexican soccer federation and FIFA over multiple fines for fans chanting anti-gay slurs at games went to sport’s highest court on Thursday.

The latest appeal by Mexico at the Court of Arbitration for Sport challenged financial penalties totaling 100,000 Swiss francs ($114,000) imposed by FIFA for incidents at two games at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

Mexico’s next World Cup game will be the opening match at the 2026 tournament, which it is co-hosting with the United States and Canada.

That game at the Azteca stadium in Mexico City should have a global television audience of hundreds of millions viewers.

It will be the first of 13 games at the 2026 tournament played in Mexico, which has tried to curb and educate fans who insist on chanting anti-gay slurs, often at the opposing team’s goalkeeper.

FIFA has repeatedly held the Mexican soccer federation responsible, handing out fines and closing stadiums for games after incidents in qualifying matches for the past two men’s World Cups, at the finals tournaments held in 2018 in Russia and 2022 in Qatar, plus qualifying games for the Olympics.

One case involved fans aiming a slur at Germany goalkeeper Manuel Neuer at a 2018 World Cup game played in Moscow.

The same insult was heard in Qatar by anti-discrimination observers working for FIFA in stoppage time of Mexico’s 2-1 win against Saudi Arabia.

The Spanish word aimed at Saudi Arabia goalkeeper Mohammed Alowais “refers to a male sex worker,” FIFA appeal judges said last year.

The word has been widely used by fans in Central and South America, and has been prosecuted by FIFA since the 2014 World Cup. A CAS panel for a previous Mexico appeal ruled in 2017 that using the word in a soccer context was insulting but not meant to offend.

At CAS on Thursday in Lausanne, Switzerland, the Mexico federation was challenging its 2022 World Cup sanctions of a 50,000 Swiss francs ($57,000) fine with a further 50,000 Swiss francs ($57,000) to be spent on a campaign educating fans.

The FIFA judges credited work done by the federation which said it had invested “considerable economic and human resources in the implementation of campaigns, measures and actions aimed at preventing and raising awareness among fans regarding the importance of not engaging in discriminatory behavior.”

Mexican fans have continued the chants even after being threatened with five-year bans from national-team games.

At an appeal hearing at FIFA last year, the Mexican federation argued it could only take full responsibility for incidents at games it organized.

Mexico fans also chanted a homophobic song at different times during a 0-0 draw with Poland in Qatar.

The federation noted to FIFA that a warning broadcast to fans in the 90th minute in the stadium “was made in English and Arabic, but not in Spanish.”

CAS has not indicated when it could rule on the latest Mexico vs. FIFA case.