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MLS suspends ban on Iron Front flag for season

The Timbers Army went silent for the first 33 minutes of Friday's match against the archrival Seattle Sounders.

Major League Soccer announced on Tuesday that it has suspended its ban on fans waving the Iron Front flag for the rest of the 2019 season, including the playoffs.

MLS had previously banned displays of the flag, which has three arrows pointed downward and to the left that was first used by an anti-Nazi paramilitary group in the 1930s, saying that it violated a provision in its Fan Code of Conduct that prohibited political signage.

MLS stated that since the Iron Front symbol is linked with antifa, which it views as a political organization, that the flag couldn't be displayed.

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That decision drew the ire of several supporters groups, including the Emerald City Supporters and Gorilla FC who support the Seattle Sounders, as well as the Timbers Army, who back the Portland Timbers. The groups contended that the Iron Front symbol is one of inclusion, and engaged in several protests against the ban. In recent weeks, fans in several MLS stadiums were either ejected or banned from attending games due to their flying of the flag.

In bid to find a solution, MLS met with the three supporters groups, as well as leaders from the Independent Supporters Council -- an umbrella organization representing supporters groups across the league -- last week in Las Vegas. The stakeholders held a follow-up conference call on Tuesday, with the league agreeing to work with the groups on a revised Fan Code of Conduct for the 2020 season. In the interim, the prohibition on waving the Iron Front flag has been suspended.

"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 season," MLS deputy commissioner and president Mark Abbott said in a statement.

"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."

The supporters groups also issued a statement which read: "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. 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 decision amounts to a victory for the supporters groups, given that MLS agreed to most of the fans' demands. Those had been spelled out prior to a match between the Timbers and the Sounders on Aug. 23, when the two sets of supporters engaged in a silent protest for the first 33 minutes of the match.

The groups called for MLS to rescind its ban on flying the Iron Front flag, as well as remove the word "political" from its Fan Code of Conduct, calling the use of the word "inherently arbitrary." The groups also asked MLS to work with international experts on human rights to craft language in the fan code that "reflects and supports radical inclusion and anti-discrimination."

Sources confirmed that those fans banned from attending matches for showing the Iron Front flag will have their suspensions lifted. The sources also confirmed that those same fans who paid for education classes so that they could begin attending games again, will receive a full refund.

While there is still work to be done in terms of the Fan Code of Conduct for 2020, the supporters groups appear to be well on their way to achieving their goals.

"This is a victory for communities who are standing up against hate," said Sheba Rawson, the president of the 107ist/Timbers Army via text message. "We look forward to continuing to work with the league to ensure that stadiums are safe and welcoming spaces for all."

ECS co-president Tom Biro added via text, "We're pleased with the outcome, and believe that supporters nationwide will be as well."

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