MLS Decides It’s OK With Anti-Fascism After All

Major League Soccer sided with supporters groups to allow the Iron Front symbol at matches.

Major League Soccer has decided it would rather not side with fascists after all, a positive step for the league in a country where fascism isn’t always condemned. 

In a statement released Wednesday, MLS said it has reversed course on fan usage of the Iron Front symbol, allowing the anti-fascist imagery to be displayed at matches, at least through the end of the 2019 season.

“MLS has suspended the prohibition on the Iron Front imagery at matches for the balance of the 2019 season and Audi MLS Cup Playoffs,” Mark Abbott, MLS President and Deputy Commissioner, said in a statement

The Iron Front emblem has become a symbol of the 2019 MLS Fan Code of Conduct, which banned the use of “political, threatening, abusive, insulting, offensive language and/or gestures, which includes racist, homophobic, xenophobic, sexist or otherwise inappropriate language or behavior.” The league used this to overbearing effect, determining everything from the Betsy Ross flag to a banner saying “End Gun Violence” was too political for MLS stadiums

Fans across the country, but especially in Seattle and Portland, have staged protests. Sounders fans walked out during a match in solidarity with a fan who was ejected for carrying an Iron Front flag. 

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With fan unrest growing — and many suggesting MLS was simply trying not to piss off its wealthy, white owners — the league took a U-turn and reconsidered its approach. Executives from MLS met with leaders of the Independent Supporters Council and Timbers and Sounders supporters groups via a teleconference call on Tuesday. The result was Wednesday’s announcement reversing the ban on Iron Front imagery.

Abbott’s full statement included the formation of a group to review the Fan Code of Conduct.

“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.”

This is a positive step, but one MLS has left room to flip on for the 2020 season. 

In response, the supporters groups released a joint statement.

“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 statement read. “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.”

Interestingly, as of publication, MLS did not post on any of its social media outlets about the agreement over the Iron Front symbol, though the Timbers did. 

Fascism is a political ideology built around suppressing minorities. While technically political, most well-intentioned governments that care about their constituents would consider fascism just as bad as any form of discrimination, be it racism, sexism, xenophobia or homophobia. 

The Iron Front draws its origins from a Nazi-fighting organization formed in Nazi Germany. By banning the use of a symbol denouncing fascism, MLS allowed itself to be portrayed as defending Nazis, which you’d think most reasonable organizations would prefer to avoid. 

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Opponents of this decision will still say anti-fascism is a political message and creates a slippery slope that allows certain types of politics. They’d have a point, let’s be real here: I think we can make an exception for anti-Nazi organizations.

Despite this concession from MLS on the Iron Front symbol, many fans will say the league hasn’t gone far enough to reverse its Fan Code of Conduct. Hopefully ongoing conversations will create a better code of conduct, one that doesn’t expel fans for suggesting an end to gun violence. As we’ve mentioned before, if fighting gun violence is political, then we may as well ban Houston Dynamo jerseys that call for an end to cancer. 

MLS still has a long way to go to truly be inclusive, but this is a start.

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