Soldier Field ready to combat homophobic slurs at Mexico national team soccer match

When the Mexican national soccer team, otherwise known as El Tri, visits Soldier Field, it’s cause for celebration on the lakefront. Fans tailgate and play loud music in the parking lots, and the matches are full of color and passion.

Unfortunately, something unsavory frequently accompanies the festivities.

During the 2019 Gold Cup final against the United States and a 2022 friendly with Ecuador, El Tri fans chanted a homophobic slur at the opposing goalkeeper. Two years ago, the Ecuador match was paused in the 81st minute as part of FIFA’s three-step system aimed at eliminating discriminatory incidents by fans, specifically the homophobic chant.

With Mexico back in town Friday to face Bolivia at Soldier Field, tour organizers are working to avoid a repeat of past incidents in Chicago and elsewhere. Pablo Zarate, vice president of Soccer United Marketing International Properties at Major League Soccer and the project manager for the Mexico tour, said there has been “continuous work” being done to eradicate the chant.

That includes displays outside stadiums warning supporters, emails to people buying tickets and public-service announcements inside facilities. Fans who utter the chant can be removed. Tour organizers also produced educational videos, one using El Tri players and another from fans to fans.

“We try to appeal to [fans’] good faith and try to make sure they understand the importance of this campaign and how this might affect others,” Zarate told the Sun-Times.

Not everybody is convinced.

Cyd Zeigler, co-founder of Outsports, a website covering LGBT issues in sports, said it’s “absolutely disgraceful” that U.S. Soccer — which permits national teams to play in the United States — would allow El Tri to play in the country despite this issue. Zeigler felt the same about Soldier Field management booking the game. He said it “undermines U.S. Soccer’s publicly pushed, false commitment to the LGBT community.”

“U.S. Soccer doesn’t give a [expletive] about Mexico fans chanting homophobic slurs,” Zeigler said to the Sun-Times. “U.S. Soccer doesn’t give a crap about them. They welcome it. They welcome all the dollars that are streaming across the border. They don’t care about the LGBT community. They don’t care.”

U.S. Soccer did not respond to several requests for comment.

Tour organizers’ duties include working with host venues. Zarate discussed communicating with the stadiums holding matches, saying he and his colleagues have been in sync with Soldier Field management. Tour organizers went on a site visit earlier this year and explained their educational plan and protocol surrounding the chant.

“We’re keeping in permanent communication,” Zarate said. “The security at the building, it’s a key component. They’ve been in lockstep with our security team. This is something that’s [before the game], during and after.”

In a statement to the Sun-Times, the Chicago Park District said ticket holders have been advised of Soldier Field’s code of conduct, which will be broadcast at the stadium on the day of the event. The code includes policies on prohibited acts, such as discriminatory chants, and consequences for violations, which could end up with civil and/or criminal action.

“Chicago Park District parks and facilities are welcoming spaces for everyone where respect, acceptance and kindness are standard practice,” the statement said. “Soldier Field, which is owned by the Park District, is no exception.”

It remains to be seen if that’s true Friday night, when another big crowd descends on Soldier Field.

“We don’t have any space for discrimination at our games,” Zarate said. “We’re committed to eradicating [the chant]. Hopefully, there will be a solution one day, but that’s something we’re [working on] every day to eradicate from the stands.”

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