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Views: 251, Date:11/Nov/2016


Before U.S. and Mexico Play, Fans Push for Respect in a Charged Atmosphere


COLUMBUS, Ohio — On Friday night, just before kickoff of a World Cup qualifying match against Mexico, the most ardent fans of the United States men’s national soccer team will unveil a giant graphical display, known as a tifo, at one end of Mapfre Stadium to show their support for the Americans.

Tifos are common before big games — the last time these teams played here, the American tifo was of an enormous eagle above the word “HOME” — and their designs and messages are closely held secrets until they are revealed. But the one that will be revealed Friday will be just a little different from most: It will be missing one of its panels.

The piece, according to one of the tifo’s designers, was removed this week because of the charged political atmosphere that has followed Donald J. Trump’s victory in Tuesday’s presidential election. According to Kevin Glenn, a designer and local chapter vice president of the supporters group known as the American Outlaws, the deleted panel “wasn’t derogatory toward Mexican fans, but it was ribbing, or maybe intimidating,” and given the current climate, “it just didn’t need to be there.”

“It probably wouldn’t have caused any issues,” Glenn said, “but we just don’t want a potential for any blemish on this at all.”

Such restraint is notable within the soccer world — where fans, particularly in Europe and elsewhere, can often be obscene, if not disgraceful, in their en masse behavior — but it is also representative of the unusual feelings around this game, which is the most significant sporting event involving an American national team since Mr. Trump became the president-elect.

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Fans of Mexico’s soccer team cheered at the 2015 Concacaf Cup in Pasadena, Calif. The Cup, between the United States and Mexico, determined Concacaf’s entry into the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup. Mexico won, 3-2, after extra time. Credit Mark Ralston/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

That the match is against Mexico — whose citizens Mr. Trump insulted during his campaign and whose northern border Mr. Trump has vowed to separate from the United States with a massive wall — has only furthered the abnormal vibe.

“It’s been very, very intense,” said Manny Zambrano, who was born in Monterrey, Mexico, but has lived in Columbus since he was 9. “Obviously the election took most everyone by surprise.”

Zambrano will be at the match on Friday night supporting Mexico. It is expected that only a few hundred fans out of the more than 20,000 inside Mapfre Stadium will be cheering for the visitors — that is one of the reasons U.S. Soccer has chosen to play this game here — but many other Mexico fans will be part of the pregame tailgates around the venue and will watch the game at nearby bars and restaurants.

Another Mexican supporter, Blanca Garcia, said she and a large group of friends who will attend the game and cheer for Mexico had a meeting this week that quickly turned emotional, as a discussion that was supposed to be about the game kept veering back to politics.

Garcia said her fan group was organizing an elaborate pregame party near the stadium, which will include Mexican musicians, a D.J. and free food during the buildup to the game. Anyone is welcome to come to the gathering, she said, and she expressed hope that there would not be any conflicts between Mexico fans and those arriving to cheer the United States.

“Honestly, from the talks we had yesterday — people are scared,” she said, referring both to the game and to the future under Mr. Trump. “They’re scared in a way that they don’t want to be disrespected, don’t want to be cut down. They don’t want to be disrespected and have to sit back and not do anything or say anything.”

Ms. Garcia added that, for her, like many Americans, the results of the election had prompted a re-examination of what she thought she knew about the leanings of others within her community. While some might assume that all the members of her group would have opposed Mr. Trump’s election, she said that actually was not the case. That led to some frank exchanges this week.

“I felt like I was definitely angry with some of the things I was hearing them say,” Garcia said, noting that one friend, whose parents are Mexicans with permanent residency in the United States, was outspoken in supporting Mr. Trump and his plan to build a wall. “He thinks there are a lot of people here that shouldn’t be here,” she said. “We have people in our group that are undocumented, who want desperately to stay and aren’t doing anything, so it was very awkward.”

Brock Hemphill, the president of the American Outlaws chapter here and a veteran of earlier U.S.-Mexico meetings here, said the group’s organizers had taken steps to ensure that the atmosphere at the stadium was rowdy but respectful. The Outlaws plan to sing a verse from a Woody Guthrie folk song, “This Land Is Your Land,” before the game, and the group will place monitors wearing yellow badges in each of the sections.

There had been online talk among some fans, Hemphill said, about possibly chanting, “Build that wall!” and other taunts at Mexico fans, but “we’re going to shut anything like that down immediately.”

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A fan of the United States team at the Rose Bowl in 2015 before the game against Mexico. Credit Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

On Thursday, at the Outlaws’ traditional night-before party, Mexican fans mingled easily with American fans at a bar. Several players from the United States team, which has players from a wide variety of ethnic backgrounds, said they expected the crowd at the game to be inclusive — yet still passionate.

“People want to politicize this game, but I don’t think there is a need for that,” Alejandro Bedoya, a New Jersey-born midfielder of Colombian descent, said.

The coaches for the teams — both of whom immigrated to the United States — struck a similar tone, though Javier Hernández, Mexico’s star forward, said he understood the passion that some Mexican fans, in particular, might feel about the game coming so soon after the election.

“There are moments that are not so nice for some people, and it wasn’t the best for Latinos and all of us,” Hernández said in an interview with Univision this week. “Sadly, that was the decision that the country took. If our game can give them some joy and take away the sadness they are going through, well, good then.”

Of course, that sentiment seems to presuppose certain leanings for a large demographic group as well, and postelection results have indicated that such blanket suppositions are misguided. That is why, Garcia said, her group of pro-Mexico fans ultimately decided to do its best to table any political talk and, for a few hours at least, just focus on the game.

“It’s been so powerful, but we’re putting aside what happened on Tuesday and trying not to make things bad at the game,” she said.

Then she hesitated. “Or, at least, not make things worse.”

Source:NY times






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