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HomeMiscellanySounders fans learn the hard way, freedom of speech limited at MLS matches

Sounders fans learn the hard way, freedom of speech limited at MLS matches

Bob Mackin

Vancouver Whitecaps FC isn’t commenting on the ejection of Seattle Sounders fans from B.C. Place Stadium on Oct. 29 for displaying a banner that read “anti-fascist, anti-racist, Always Seattle.”

“This is a Seattle and [Major League Soccer] issue,” Whitecaps’ director of communications Tom Plasteras told theBreaker. “It was an MLS official who basically determined the sign needed to come out and was the person handling this situation. It doesn’t really involve the Whitecaps.”

Sounders’ fans booted from B.C. Place for “political” banner (Twitter)

Plasteras said he did not know who that official was. In 2015, several fans at a Whitecaps’ game were ejected after displaying a refugees welcome banner.

MLS has a policy against banners and signs containing political messages at its matches, but has run advertising campaigns on league broadcasts and at stadiums against discrimination. Officially, the MLS fan code of conduct, on the league website, states that “fans have a right to expect an environment where fans enjoy the soccer experience free from… political or inciting messages.”

Three Vancouver Police officers and three B.C. Place security guards removed three Emerald City Supporters and their banner during the scoreless first leg in the Western Conference semifinal series, according to a YouTube video.

The second and deciding match is Nov. 2 in Seattle’s CenturyLink Field.

One of those ejected was Tom Biro, who Tweeted: “Being anti-fascist isn’t a political statement. Ever.” 

Sounders’ owners Adrian Hanauer, Joe Roth, Paul Allen and Drew Carey issued a statement reacting to the incident. They didn’t directly address the banner or the ejections, however. 

“We would like to reassure our fans that both the league and our club believe strongly in inclusion and acceptance,” said the statement above their signatures. “Tolerance and inclusivemess are pillars of our society, and ideals we take seriously as an organization. At a human level, we believe these values to be non-political. Speaking up for equality is simply the right thing to do.”

Whitecaps principal owner Greg Kerfoot did not respond to an email from theBreaker

B.C. Place spokeswoman Laura Ballance said management of the publicly owned stadium would not comment. 

MLS executive vice-president Dan Courtemanche said he would provide a statement later. 

“We did have an individual on site from our operations team, they are at all of our post-season matches,” Courtemanche said.. 

Though B.C. Place is publicly owned, the B.C. Civil Liberties Association’s policy director said the Whitecaps’ match was “nevertheless a private event,” so the promoter was justified in regulating spectator activities. 

“We think it’s fair to say they have a right to control what things are on display,” said Micheal Vonn. “That said, we would hope that they would exercise this control in the spirit that many people approach these events as public, community events, and use a light touch.”

John Knox, spokesman for the Whitecaps’ oldest and biggest supporters group, the Vancouver Southsiders, said supporters want more clarity and transparency on what constitutes a political message. Knox said many supporters feel the need to speak out in support of refugees and against racism and fascism, because of the times we live in. 

“We can’t have this situation where the parties are deferring to each other,” Knox said. 

“The prevailing fear within the league has always been about supporters groups turning into something ugly that we’ve seen in parts of Europe, where they’ve taken on those hateful positions and done damage to their communities and have hurt people,” Knox said. “Supporters here are going out of their way to be the complete opposite of that.”

Knox said the Southsiders are involved in the Independent Supporters Council, an association of supporters groups from various leagues around North America, and are concerned about the inconsistent application of MLS fan conduct policies around the league.

“We would like clarity, we would like transparency about what we can do and what we can’t,” Knox said. 

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