In an effort to quell last season’s controversy over political signage at games, Major League Soccer announced Tuesday it had approved a new fan code of conduct. The guidelines, which will be in effect for the 2020 season and were developed with input from supporters and civil rights groups, will prohibit the following:
• Displaying signs, symbols, images, using language or making gestures that are threatening, abusive, or discriminatory, including on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, gender, gender identity, ability, and/or sexual orientation.
• Displaying signs, symbols or images for commercial purposes or for electioneering, campaigning or advocating for or against any candidate, political party, legislative issue, or government action.
That new language is more specific than what MLS introduced last year, which broadly banned anything deemed “political” without defining the word. As part of that effort, MLS specifically targeted an obscure symbol associated with an anti-Nazi paramilitary group in the 1930s known as the Iron Front.
The Iron Front symbol had quietly been displayed for years without issue by a small number of supporters in Seattle and Portland, who said it represented a broad opposition to fascism without any specific political ties. But when MLS attempted to ban it last season, the Timbers Army in Portland, and Emerald City Supporters and Gorilla FC in Seattle, led protests, which included openly displaying the Iron Front symbol en masse, refusing to cheer at a nationally televised rivalry game, and a walkout.
— Caitlin Murray (@caitlinmurr) August 24, 2019
They just kicked out the head of gameday ops, made @WeAreECS take down the iron front symbols which are up to support inclusion for our players from all over the world. This is a sad moment. #SoundersMatchday#AUnitedFront pic.twitter.com/7Ljomh2vzB
— ⭐Emily Cummings⭐ (@emilyrcummings) September 15, 2019
Under pressure from supporters groups and civil rights groups, MLS lifted its ban on the Iron Front in September and vowed to review the fan code of conduct before the 2020 season with input from fans and other stakeholders.
Oregon’s Council on American-Islamic Relations, which worked with the Timbers Army on the issue, applauded the new fan code of conduct that was introduced Tuesday.
“With their comprehensive process in crafting their new fan code of conduct, Major League Soccer showed how to be a leader in professional sports,” board chair Zakir Khan said in a statement. “These changes will make MLS games a more inclusive environment for all marginalized groups. The new fan code of conduct was developed by both supporters groups and civil rights organizations. We believe this is a new model of engagement in professional sports, and we hope that other leagues will follow their path.”
The Timbers Army tweeted: “We got all the things that we asked for: The word ‘political’ is removed, the specific ban on Iron Front imagery is lifted, and the league consulted with experts in human rights and in other leagues and countries.”