The message seemed to get through for most of the game Sunday at Soldier Field. Though the fans were loud and boisterous, the match was free of a homophobic cheer that Mexico supporters have been known to chant at opposing goalkeepers.
But late in the 0-0 tie between Mexico and Ecuador, things changed.
As Ecuador goalie Alexander Dominguez attempted a kick, enough of the announced crowd of 61,104 made the chant, forcing a stoppage in the 81st minute. Players from both teams gathered in the center circle before the match resumed after a brief delay.
Though the game was a friendly as both teams prepare for the World Cup this fall in Qatar, the event was subject to FIFA’s three-step system aimed at eliminating discriminatory incidents by fans, specifically the homophobic cheer. The moment led to the first tier of the protocol, and the match could’ve been abandoned if the chant persisted.
Tour organizers have tried to stamp out the chant. Visitors outside of Soldier Field were greeted by displays warning about that behavior, and a tarp covering the center circle before the game had similar wording. People who bought tickets were emailed a warning not to use the chant, there were public-service announcements over social media, fans using the slur outside the arena were denied entry and Mexico star Andres Guardado delivered a message before kickoff.
Apparently, those efforts weren’t enough, even after a year or so of positive developments at tour matches.
“While we’re disappointed that towards the very end of the game it was heard and we had a stoppage, we feel that the measures we have taken are very strong and we’ve made very strong progress,” MexTour spokesperson Gabriel Gabor told the Sun-Times. “We have to remember that it’s a process, it’s not going to happen overnight and we feel good about where we are right now in that process.”
Before the stoppage, the event had many of the familiar hallmarks of a Mexico visit to Soldier Field, even if the match didn’t feature any goals or effective offensive rushes.
Before the game, there was a party atmosphere outside the stadium and all around the facility’s parking lots, there was tailgates and music. Inside the stadium, Mexico supporters outnumbered boisterous Ecuador fans, though the latter made their presence felt by wearing bright yellow and displaying their tricolor flag with bands of yellow, blue and red. The wave was ubiquitous, as was the sound of banging drums from fans of both teams. Mexico supporters applauded saves from star goalie Guillermo Ochoa, and groaned in unison when El Tri missed its chances to score.
For much of the night, that seemed like it would be the takeaway from the game between two countries with hopes of making noise at the World Cup. Then the chant changed the tone, reminding everybody of how much work remains to be done.
“We learned that it’s going to take time,” Gabor said. “We’ll have to go back and evaluate the protocols, but we feel very strongly about the messaging and the education. The goal is to eradicate it, but we have to do it all together. Not just organizers, but working together with fans, with the media, with the community. We’ll get it done.”