An ongoing conflict between Major League Soccer and supporters of some of the league’s teams — including the Sounders — appears to have been resolved, at least for the time being.
After MLS officials last Thursday met with representatives from supporters groups, including two Sounders groups, in Las Vegas to discuss mounting tension over the league’s ban of the Iron Front flag in its stadiums, MLS on Tuesday lifted its ban for the remainder of the season and playoffs.
The Iron Front flag, which sports a symbol widely regarded as anti-fascist, had been banned at MLS stadiums since the league updated its Fan Code of Conduct this season, guiding its teams to deem the flag’s imagery as political and thus forbidden.
The flag’s symbol — three arrows pointed Southwest inside a circle — is from an anti-Nazi paramilitary organization that originated in Germany in the 1930s.
After a teleconference between involved parties Tuesday, a new group was formed to review the Fan Code of Conduct ahead of the 2020 season in an attempt to improve its clarity and consistency and avoid issues such as the Emerald City Supporters’ walkout during a game Sept. 15 at CenturyLink Field. The new group is comprised of MLS representatives and members of ECS and fellow Sounders supporters group Gorilla FC, Portland-based groups the 107 Independent Supporters Trust / Timbers Army, and the Independent Supporters Council — which is itself comprised of leaders of various teams’ supporters groups.
“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,” leaders of supporters groups said in a statement released Tuesday.
“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.”
Seattle’s handling of the league’s Iron Front ban in July ignited the Sept. 15 walkout. During a match against Portland at CenturyLink Field, ECS and supporters for the Timbers displayed the flag and weren’t ejected. Afterward, however, Sounders supporters were warned in a letter in which Sounders owner Adrian Hanauer equated the Iron Front with the Proud Boys — defined by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group — and Patriot Prayer.
“Messages, banners, flags or any other symbols that represent an association to a political group will not be allowed in CenturyLink Field,” the letter stated. “This includes, but is not limited to, Antifa, Iron Front, Proud Boys and Patriot Prayer.”
The Sounders front office apologized for its wording but upheld MLS’s ban until Tuesday’s resolution.