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08/08/2016 05:08 pm ET Updated Aug 15, 2016

U.S. Soccer Team Greeted With Homophobic Chants At Rio Olympics

The use of the slur was distressing given the number of out players.
U.S. midfielder Megan Rapinoe, who is openly gay, called the insults "personally hurtful." 
GUSTAVO ANDRADE via Getty Images
U.S. midfielder Megan Rapinoe, who is openly gay, called the insults "personally hurtful." 

It wasn’t just cheers that greeted several Olympic women’s soccer tournament players at the opening matches in Rio de Janeiro last week, but also blatant homophobia.  

Three members of the U.S. Women’s National Team said a number of Brazilian spectators told them that fans were chanting “Zika,” a mocking reference to the viral pandemic, as well as “bicha,” which is apparently an anti-gay slur comparable to “faggot” and used toward men, the Los Angeles Times reports. The chant was allegedly heard during the U.S. team’s Aug. 3 victory over New Zealand, as well as the Australia vs. Canada match that same day. 

The use of the slur is particularly distressing given the number of out players on those teams. U.S. midfielder Megan Rapinoe came out as a lesbian in 2012 in an Out magazine interview, while four players in the Australia vs. Canada match, including goalie Stephanie Labbé, have also publicly identified as LGBT, Outsports reports. Jill Ellis, who coaches the U.S. team, is also a lesbian

Calling the insult “personally hurtful,” Rapinoe told the Los Angeles Times that she didn’t think most of the fans involved would’ve used the term in a face-to-face conversation with her. 

“They need to understand if all of you are willing to do that, what does that say to a gay player? Especially in the men’s game,” she said. “What does that say to players who are struggling to come out?”

Australian coach Alen Stajcic felt similarly, telling The Sydney Morning Herald that he didn’t “understand the language or the culture or where that has evolved from.” 

“It doesn’t sound pleasant,” he said. 

Local journalists said it was the first time that the chant had been heard at a women’s soccer match in Brazil. The news comes at a time when FIFA, the soccer world’s governing body, has been attempting to crack down on anti-gay behavior from fans. In April, Mexico’s national soccer team released a video in which team members specifically asked spectators to stop using anti-gay chants at their games. 

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