Multiple fans belonging to the Timbers Army, the main supporters' group for the Portland Timbers in MLS, have been banned from attending games at Providence Park for three matches.
The fans were banned for waving flags that show the Iron Front symbol at an Aug. 31 home win against Real Salt Lake, which violates MLS' prohibition on political signage in its stadiums outlined in the league's Fan Code of Conduct.
MLS has stated that the symbol is connected to the antifa movement and thus constitutes a link to a political organization. The Timbers Army contends that the image is intended to promote inclusion, anti-fascism and anti-racism.
One source added that the fans who have been sanctioned can appeal their bans if they so choose, and that the punishments could be reduced.
The club released a statement on Thursday, saying that the club is "encouraged that MLS will soon [be] engaging with the [Independent Supporters Council] on the Supporters Code of Conduct. We continue to communicate with the league and our supporters on this issue. In the meantime we and all clubs in MLS need to enforce league rules but the Timbers are committed to embracing explicit and creative anti-fascist and anti-racist expression as we always have."
On Thursday, the 107 Independent Supporters Trust -- the nonprofit engine behind the Timbers Army and Rose City Riveters -- issued its own statement expressing disappointment with the league's decision.
The statement read in part: "The 107 Independent Supporters Trust, the nonprofit engine behind the Timbers Army and Rose City Riveters, stands in protest of Major League Soccer's decision to issue three-game bans to multiple individuals who displayed flags bearing the Iron Front image last Saturday, August 31, at Providence Park. We disagree with the League's stance, with its misapplication of the Fan Code of Conduct, and with its failure to consult with human rights experts in the Code's creation.
"In protest of the League's decision, the Timbers Army will fly no flags of any sort or deploy any smoke for goal celebrations this Saturday. Our focus this weekend will be on education. We will use banners with words instead of symbols to remind the world of our unwavering opposition to fascism and to discrimination. We will increase our written communication, both inside the stadium and online, about the reasons for our protest and the larger issues that the Iron Front flag ban represents. We will continue to fight for the League to lift the bans for individuals who displayed Iron Front flags and banners on August 31."
Prior to the start of the season, MLS revised its Fan Code of Conduct, which now includes a ban on political signage. While the Code of Conduct doesn't mention the Iron Front flag specifically, fans from around the league were told prior to the season that it is prohibited.
But the issue has come to a head in recent weeks. The Timbers Army, along with their Seattle Sounders counterparts -- the Emerald City Supporters and Gorilla FC, staged a silent protest for the first 33 minutes of the match between the two teams on Aug. 23. At that point in the game, the supporters from both teams began cheering and displaying flags with the Iron Front symbol.
In a statement released prior to the match, the three groups called for MLS to rescind its ban on flying the Iron Front flag, as well as remove the word "political" from its Fan Code of Conduct, calling the use of the word "inherently arbitrary."
The groups also asked MLS 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."
Four days after the match, the Timbers Army said in a statement that it had been given a "general warning" by the club and the league for displaying the flag. But the Timbers Army showed the flags again during last weekend's match against Real Salt Lake, thus triggering the aforementioned sanctions.
Portland's next home match is this Saturday against Sporting Kansas City.