In what has to be seen as a significant victory for supporters, MLS announced on Tuesday that it had decided to suspend the ban on the flag for at least the remainder of the 2019 season.
The decision came after a meeting last week with Emerald City Supporters, Gorilla FC, Timbers Army and representatives from the Independent Supporters Council. During that meeting the league agreed to revisit the fan code of conduct with input from supporters, but had asked for more time to consider the flag situation. That decision came on Tuesday after a conference call with supporters.
“This is a positive step forward and shows that organized support can move the needle for everyone,” ECS co-president Tom Biro told Sounder at Heart over text.
The statement from MLS President and Deputy Commissioner Mark Abbott also formally announced a working group made up of “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”, with the goal of finalizing a revised Fan Code of Conduct before the 2020 season.
Abbott’s full statement: “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 MLS season. 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.”
Supporters jointly issued this 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.”
Taken together, supporters effectively got what they were looking for when they issued a joint statement on Aug. 1 that called for the ban on the Iron Front flag to be rescinded, the word “political” to be removed from the Fan Code of Conduct, and for the league to work with “international experts on human rights to craft language in the fan code of conduct that reflects and supports radical inclusion and anti-discrimination.”
Since that joint statement, there have been various protests around the league. Most notably, Sounders and Timbers supporters engaged in a 33-minute silent protest at the start of their match on Aug. 24. More recently, ECS walked out of the second half of the Sounders match on Sept. 15 after a capo was ejected for waving the Iron Front flag.