Major League Soccer announced Tuesday that it will no longer prohibit the display of Iron Front imagery at games for the rest of the 2019 season.
The displaying of the Iron Front symbol at games by supporters of the Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders had been a point of contention between the fan groups representing those two clubs and the league, which adopted a policy this season that banned fan displays that were deemed political. On Thursday, MLS officials met in Las Vegas with supporters' groups from the Sounders, Timbers and the Independent Supporters Council to discuss a new league policy. While no resolution came from that meeting, a conference call was set up for Tuesday, when the sides came to an agreement.
"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 president and deputy commissioner Mark Abbott said in a statement.
"The 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 MLS Cup Playoffs while the working group conducts its analysis."
Leaders from the supporter groups also made a 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. 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."
Supporters' groups had challenged the new league policy banning political symbols at games, with the anti-fascism Iron Front imagery — first used in Germany by an anti-Nazi paramilitary group in the 1930s — at the heart of the controversy. During a Sounders home game against the New York Red Bulls on Sept. 15, the majority of fans in the supporters' section walked out of the stands at the beginning of the second half as a sign of unity for a supporters leader who was removed during halftime for displaying the Iron Front flag.
"This is not something that is isolated in Seattle," Sounders VP of business operations, and former player, Taylor Graham told the Seattle Times. "As much as we (Sounders’ front office) can have good and productive and honest and direct and sometimes tough conversations with our supporters groups, it’s equally important that the league understands why this is such an important issue and why now of all these times."
In Portland, several Timbers fans were banned for three games for waving flags bearing the Iron Front symbol.
At a game between the Sounders and Timbers at Portland's Providence Park, fans from both teams staged a silent protest for the first 33 minutes of the match to protest the league's political signage ban.