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No agreement yet reached over Iron Front flag ban

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After meeting with supporters in Las Vegas, MLS promises to revisit fan code of conduct, but doesn’t agree to any immediate changes.

Max Aquino / Sounder at Heart

Representatives from Major League Soccer and various supporters groups — including ECS, Gorilla FC and Timbers Army — met on Thursday in Las Vegas with the hope of coming to some sort of agreement over the use of Iron Front flags as well as a revised fan code of conduct. Although no complete agreement was reached, the meeting was called “productive” and MLS made some moves in the direction of supporters.

The most notable move by the league was an agreement to revise its controversial fan code of conduct with input from supporters and other outside groups with the hope of completing it by 2020. MLS also agreed to re-evaluate its treatment of the Iron Front flag, albeit without any sort of promise to lift the ban in the short or long-term.

In the meantime, however, current rules presumably remain in place at least over the weekend. The groups are scheduled to have a conference call on Tuesday to discuss how the current fan code of conduct will be enforced for the remainder of 2019. That MLS was apparently unprepared to make a definitive ruling was a source of frustration for supporters.

“The first 75-90 minutes were fairly productive, and I think everyone in the room understood how we got here, including how the code of conduct got to where it was,” ECS co-president Tom Biro told Sounder at Heart over text message. “We (specifically ECS) are disappointed that MLS did not appear prepared to make a decision on the Iron Front matter, and we even brought up how policy changed — at least for Sounders — in an extremely brief time period after the incident in Vancouver in 2017.”

The league apparently started crafting the current fan code of conduct shortly after the 2017 incident in which Biro was among the fans ejected from a playoff game in Vancouver for refusing to remove a anti-racist/anti-fascist sign. By the next day, Sounders ownership released a statement supporting the message and the signs have been a regular feature in the ECS section ever since.

The current fan code of conduct that was finalized ahead of this season without direct input from supporters allowed teams a degree of discretion over specific messages, but also banned “political” speech. In addition to lifting the ban on the Iron Front flag, supporters are asking for the term “political” to be removed.

MLS supplied this statement from Deputy Commissioner Mark Abbott, who was in attendance at the event:

“We had a productive meeting, and I would like to thank the supporters’ group leaders for their willingness to share their views in an honest and open conversation. The League reaffirmed its long-time commitment to the values of inclusion and diversity, including opposition to racism, fascism and homophobia and to ensuring that there is no place for repugnant hate speech in MLS stadiums.

“During today’s meeting, the League proposed a collaborative process for reviewing its Fan Code of Conduct in a way that is inclusive of a cross-section of industry experts and national advocacy groups along with the leaders of its supporter groups. The goal is to have that process completed prior to the start of the 2020 season. The League also committed to evaluating the treatment of the Iron Front flag for the remainder of the 2019 season, while conducting the broader evaluation of the Fan Code of Conduct, and are scheduling a conference call with the supporter group leadership next week to discuss this.

“We look forward to this next step in the process and continuing a dialogue with the Independent Supporters Council and other supporter group representatives.”