Major League Soccer has lifted its ban on fan groups’ use of the Iron Front symbol, the league announced Tuesday.
MLS initially met with leaders from its teams’ supporters groups last Thursday in Las Vegas to discuss the display of the Iron Front flag at matches, then held an additional conference call Tuesday. MLS says it's a political symbol and used by violent far-left groups, but fans say it is an “apolitical anti-fascist symbol inherent to their supporters culture,” according to Yahoo Sport’s Caitlin Murray.
The Emerald City Supporters group, a fan group of the Seattle Sounders, staged a walkout earlier this month after one of its leaders was ejected from a match for waving the Iron Front flag, a symbol that was mostly unknown until Major League Soccer banned it. Prior to that, multiple members of the Timbers Army, a fan group of Portland, received multi-game bans for flying the flag.
Seattle Sounders fans have been using the Iron Front symbol since 2009 without issue – the official scarf of the Gorilla FC supporters group included it, and it had been featured on signs as well.
The Timbers Army has been displaying the Iron Front flag since at least 2017.
MLS implemented a new fan code of conduct this season, prohibiting “using (including on any sign or other visible representation) political, threatening, abusive, insulting, offensive language and/or gestures, which includes racist, homophobic, xenophobic, sexist or otherwise inappropriate language or behavior.”
The use of the Iron Front symbol – three arrows pointed southwest inside a circle, which originated in 1930s Germany with a paramilitary anti-Nazi organization – was originally deemed in violation of the policy.
“This was a long and difficult process, but ultimately it had a positive result,” Sheba Rawson, the president of the board that oversees the Timbers Army, told Yahoo Sports’ Caitlin Murray. “I have much respect and appreciation for all of the supporters who were unwavering in standing up for what is right."
MLS, fan group leaders engage on use of Iron Front flag
In a statement Tuesday, MLS President and Deputy Commissioner Mark Abbott announced the formation of a “working group” to review fan conduct policies, as well as formally suspending the Iron Front ban.
“After collaborative discussions with its fans, supporter groups, and clubs, Major League Soccer, the Independent Supporters Council, the 107 Independent Supporters Trust / Timbers Army, Emerald City Supporters, and Gorilla FC jointly announce the formation of a working group by MLS to review the league's Fan Code of Conduct to ensure clarity and consistency in advance of the 2020 MLS season,” Abbott said. “This working group will include representatives from the league office and clubs and work collaboratively with leaders of club supporter groups and a cross-section of diversity and inclusion experts. As part of this decision to update the Fan Code of Conduct for 2020, MLS has suspended the prohibition on the Iron Front imagery at matches for the balance of the 2019 season and Audi MLS Cup Playoffs while the working group conducts its analysis.”
Leaders of the various supporters’ groups involved gave a statement as well, commending the league for its willingness to engage on the issue.
“The Independent Supporters Council and supporter groups for the Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders FC acknowledge the league's willingness to discuss these complex issues, as well as the league's affirmation of its long-time opposition to racism, fascism, white supremacy, white nationalism and homophobia,” the leaders’ statement said. “We appreciate Major League Soccer’s willingness to engage, listen, and learn. We look forward to continuing the dialogue, moving away from direct action in the stands on this issue, and instead focusing our energy on making progress around the table.”
The Timbers commented on the decision on Twitter:
We applaud the efforts by MLS, the 107ist and ISC for achieving a positive resolution & collaborative path forward on the Fan Code of Conduct. We're optimistic a more thoughtful Code of Conduct will be created & appreciate everyone’s willingness to listen, learn & come together. https://t.co/SP3q6ymih1— Portland Timbers (@TimbersFC) September 25, 2019
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