Sao Paulo, Brazil: FIFA has opened disciplinary proceedings against the Mexico team for what it has called the "improper conduct of spectators" at the World Cup.
Mexican fans taunted the opposing goalkeepers in Mexico's 1-0 victory over Cameroon last Friday and in Tuesday's 0-0 tie with Brazil with a traditional cheer that ends by shouting a word widely regarded as a derogatory term used against gays.
A complaint was lodged with FIFA, soccer's world governing body, by the London-based Fare Network, an organization that combats discrimination in the sport. Fare has also registered concerns about neo-Nazi banners displayed by Croatian and Russian fans.
"FIFA takes a firm, zero-tolerance stance against any form of discrimination and racism," the federation said in a statement. FIFA regulations prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, and could result in a loss of tournament points, although first offenses generally incur a warning.
Mexicans have taken to social media and television to defend the chant.
"Why do they want to take away this cheer that identifies us, that is lovely, that is euphoric, and that is in no way homophobic?" asked Martha Figueroa, a host on "Nuestro Dia," a morning television show on the network Cadena Tres.
Piara Powar, Fare's executive director, said: "Mexicans have been arguing that this is meant as a form of calling someone a coward. But it's fairly clear that it's a homophobic chant. In the context and history that goes with it, it's being used to indicate that the goalkeeper is homosexual and thus is weak."
Homophobic slurs are nothing new to soccer stadiums around the world. During the tournament's opening ceremony, Brazilian fans directed a chant - usually reserved for opposing players and referees - against their own president, Dilma Rousseff, in an episode that caused much hand-wringing around the country.
A FIFA spokeswoman, Delia Fischer, said the organization would not comment on the proceedings. No disciplinary action has ever been taken against teams for their fans' discriminatory behavior at a World Cup tournament "to the best of our knowledge," she added.
Lina Perez Cerqueda, the president of Cuenta Conmigo, a gay-rights group in Mexico City, said the word in question has always been "used to offend.''
Powar said he was not necessarily seeking punishment without adequate warning. Mexicans "have made the fair argument that this has never been raised with them before and is not something widely debated in Mexico," he said. "Our mission is to educate."