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MLS lifts ban on Iron Front symbol following fan backlash

Major League Soccer has lifted its ban on supporters’ use of the Iron Front symbol at its games for the remainder of the 2019 season following a furious fan backlash.

The decision came following a meeting in Las Vegas last week and a teleconference this week between MLS, leaders of the Independent Supporters Council and supporter groups for the Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders.

The Iron Front flag – an emblem with three arrows pointing downward – is a widely-recognized anti-fascist symbol. It was banned from games this season after MLS deemed the imagery political following an update to its Fan Code of Conduct.

MLS said the symbol was political because it has been appropriated by Antifa, loosely organized militant groups of anti-fascists that sometimes engage in violence. A number of supporters’ groups pushed back on the ban, arguing that the symbol represented opposition to fascism and persecution, which is a human rights issue, not a political stance.

This led to a number of Timbers and Sounders fans being ejected from games for continuing to use Iron Front imagery. In one game between the Sounders and Timbers last month, both sets of supporters’ groups refrained from engaging in organized chants, songs, choreography, flag-waving or playing of instruments for the first 33 minutes of the match in protest at the ban.

The issue became a PR nightmare for MLS but the league appears to have averted any more negative headlines and fan unrest by reversing its ban.

“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 supporters’ groups said in a statement.

“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 tweeted: “We’re optimistic a more thoughtful Code of Conduct will be created & appreciate everyone’s willingness to listen, learn & come together.”