Outside of perhaps Seattle and Portland, few
MLS fans had probably even heard of the Iron Front or seen its symbol before this season.
It became the center of a dispute between fans in several markets and the league over political activism in stadiums. The dispute led to expulsions and stadium bans and statements by fans to withdraw their support.
That dispute was diffused on Tuesday night when MLS announced it was lifting the ban on the Iron Front symbol on flags or banners for the rest of the 2019 season.
The move followed talks between MLS executives and leaders of the Independent Supporters Council representing fan groups around the league and supporter groups for the Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders on Thursday in Las Vegas and a conference call on Tuesday.
The dispute centered around how MLS and supporters view the emblem of the Iron Front, an anti-Nazi paramilitary organization in Germany in the early 1930s. It features three arrows pointing downward.
Fans consider the symbol an expression of anti-fascism and anti-racism. The league's position has been that the Iron Front emblem is political -- and therefore banned it -- because it has been co-opted by Antifa, the collection of militant protest groups opposed to fascism and other extreme right-wing ideology.
It only became an issue in 2019 when MLS updated its Fan Code of Conduct to ban "political" signs. The ban on the display of Iron Front flags or banners led to protests, ejections and more protests and walkouts in Portland and Seattle, two centers of political activism, but also at other MLS venues.
Supporters groups wanted MLS to only not rescind the ban on flying the Iron Front flags and banners but remove the word “political” from its Fan Code of Conduct and 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.
MLS president and deputy commissioner Mark Abbott said in a statement released on Tuesday evening that the league would form a working group to re-examine the Fan Code of Conduct and suspend the "Iron Front" ban while that work took place.
“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,” Abbott said.
From the supporters' side came a statement that it acknowledged "the league’s willingness to discuss these complex issues, as well as the league’s affirmation of its longtime 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.”