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Despite progress over controversial Mexico fan chant, bigger tests remain

SOCHI, Russia -- When you think of Mexico national team fans, what should spring to mind is color and passion. These two qualities have been on full display at all of Mexico's Confederations Cup matches to date, and curious Russians have lined up to take photos with El Tri supporters dressed as El Chapulin Colorado, mariachis or luchadores. Many of the Mexican faithful also sport Jorge Campos replica shirts.

But that undoubtedly positive aspect of fandom has been overshadowed by that controversial goalkeeper chant. Mexico fans chant "puto" in unison as the opposing goalkeeper runs up to take goal kicks. It's common in both Liga MX matches and contests involving the national team.

The Mexican federation argues the term is not an anti-gay slur when it is chanted en masse inside stadiums; FIFA disagrees. The chant has been ruled anti-gay by the world governing body, which has chastised and fined the FMF on multiple occasions since November 2015. FIFA's involvement has sparked fears that Mexican home games would be moved away from Estadio Azteca.

The controversy first garnered global attention at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, when FIFA received a complaint from the anti-discrimination group Fare. The disciplinary committee ruled then that the chant was "not considered insulting in this specific context" and dismissed charges against the Mexican federation.

While the FMF has since launched campaigns to end the chant, there have been numerous instances of dissidence among Mexico's fan base -- notably during World Cup qualifiers. Last October, FIFA issued the Mexican Federation a fine of 85,000 Swiss francs ($85,000), and an appeal is currently being adjudicated upon by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).

In Russia, FIFA issued another warning "in relation to insulting and discriminatory chants" following Mexico's opening 2-2 draw against Portugal in Kazan, and stressed that "additional measures" could be taken.

With new rules in place giving referees the power to abandon games if they witness discrimination from the stands, the Mexican federation feared the match might be suspended. The FMF also fretted that some of the Mexican contingent in Russia (which totaled over 2,000 members) would be made to leave stadiums if the chanting persisted.

The FMF's response to the Portugal match has been unequivocal. General secretary Guillermo Cantu told ESPN that the aim is to eradicate the chant in games "all over the world," with the hope that "fans will be more educated over time." Mexico captain Andres Guardado reinforced the message.

So far, the message seems to be getting through. The chant was absent during Mexico's last two group games, and reports that two fans were escorted out of the stadium in Sochi turned out to be erroneous; FIFA representatives told ESPN FC that the stories were "without base" and they had no knowledge of such an incident occurring.

Speaking to multiple Mexico fans in Russia over the past week, the general consensus seems be that the chant must stop. Outside Fisht Stadium in Sochi before the match against New Zealand, fans held up a banner asking others to refrain from chanting, while pamphlets were also handed out.

"We won't be shouting it," Mexico City native Sandra Brinones told ESPN FC. "It's been communicated and I think we Mexicans have to show that we have culture and respect for other countries and for ourselves."

"Why create a problem if we can be kicked out of the stadium, the federation can be fined or the national team punished with the suspension of a game," questioned "Caramelo," who can be seen at every Mexico game bearing his "Chihuahua" flag. "We're trying to make this a turning point to ask people to stop."

Despite his belief that El Tri supporters should abandon the chant, "Caramelo" -- like Mexico manager Juan Carlos Osorio, Guardado, Cantu and many fans -- still doesn't think it is offensive.

"When it is screamed in the stadiums, it has this double entendre," Juan Jacobo Hernandez, founder of Mexican gay rights organization Colectivo Sol, told ESPN FC in an interview. "There's the festive interpretation saying that the others are imbeciles, clumsy and don't know how to score. But it's also sexist."

The origins of the chant are not 100 percent certain, but the most often-cited explanation suggests that it is a relatively recent phenomenon, as opposed to a long-standing tradition in Mexican football.

It was first heard in 2003, when Atlas fans directed the cry toward their former goalkeeper Oswaldo Sanchez, who had left the club for America seven years earlier and then moved on to Chivas in 1999. The original reason behind the chant -- or so it is claimed -- involved statements Sanchez made before the game about his heart belonging to Chivas.

While El Tri supporters in Russia have largely towed the line, it remains to be seen what will happen when Mexico plays in front of bigger crowds at the Gold Cup in the United States next month, or when World Cup qualifying resumes in September. A recent ESPN Mexico poll revealed that 69 percent of fans will continue to join in the chant despite FIFA's warnings and the FMF's admonishments.

Though the future remains uncertain, it helps that supporters' groups like Ola Verde and Pancho Villa's Army are actively attempting to end the controversy. "PVA is going to work with fans throughout the Gold Cup to stop the chant," said founder Sergio Tristan. "We will be focusing on education, passing out pamphlets and doing videos, and then creating something new for the opposing goal kick."

With Mexico battling the United States and Canada to secure the 2026 World Cup bid, this would be an opportune moment for the chant to disappear. The signs in Russia so far have been positive, but only time will tell if this is truly the beginning of its end. There are bigger tests to come.