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Major League Soccer releases new fan code of conduct

NFL stars, rappers and actors model the new kits MLS clubs will wear in the league's 25th season.

MLS released its revised Fan Code of Conduct (FCC) on Tuesday in an attempt to address concerns raised by supporter groups last year.

The updated policy includes additional clarity about the types of signage that will not be permitted in stadiums including 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.

Also prohibited are signs displaying symbols or images for commercial purposes or for electioneering, campaigning or advocating for or against any candidate, political party, legislative issue, or government action. The new code of conduct was arrived at after meetings with the Independent Supporters Council, various supporter groups from around MLS, social justice organizations, crowd management specialists and other leagues and clubs in North America and abroad.

"This new language is a significant, positive step in the relationship between the fans and the league they support," Independent Supporters Council president Bailey Brown said in a statement. "We want to thank the MLS officials for consulting with the ISC in developing this language for 2020 and beyond, and we're looking forward to continuing our dialogue on the interactions between fans, teams, players, and the league."

When MLS released its revised code of conduct in 2019, concerns were raised by supporter groups about the ban against displaying what the league classified as political signage. At issue was the vague nature of the word "political" as well as uneven enforcement of the code of conduct.

Those concerns came to a head when supporters groups from around the league, but in particular in Portland and Seattle, insisted on being able to display the Iron Front flag, which MLS deemed political in nature due to its link to antifa. Its proponents stressed the symbol was meant to convey an anti-fascist, anti-racist message.

Supporter groups displaying the Iron Front flag caused issues with the fan code of conduct in Portland and Seattle last season.

There was a well-publicized silent protest during an Aug. 23 match between the Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders in which supporter groups from both teams declined to cheer or wave flags for the first 33 minutes of the match. The two sets of supporter groups, as well as the Independent Supporters Council, asked that MLS meet with them and include social justice organizations in order to hammer out an agreement.

After several instances of fans being ejected for displaying the flag, MLS backed down and said it would rescind the ban on political signage until a new code of conduct could be agreed upon.

After several meetings during the MLS offseason, the two sides were able to agree upon the revised code of conduct.

"The most important thing to come out of the [FCC] discussion and revision is the process and the conversation," said Sheba Rawson, president of the 107 Independent Supporters Council, the non-profit arm of the Portland-based Timbers Army and Rose City Riveters. "As a result of the process, Major League Soccer did much of what we were asking them to do:

"They removed the word political from the [FCC]. They consulted with experts in human rights and with people who have dealt with these issues in other leagues and other countries. And there is now an established, ongoing dialogue between the league and the Independent Supporters Council. Hopefully, this ongoing dialogue will help supporters and the league talk through potential areas of conflict or concern, before they become issues across the league."

The 2020 season starts Saturday, Feb. 29 with eight games, led by an afternoon contest between D.C. United and the Colorado Rapids. Among the 13 games played on the season's opening weekend will be the debut of two expansion teams: Nashville SC and Inter Miami CF.

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