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MLS flag ban: What is the Iron Front symbol & why was it barred from soccer stadiums?

In September 2019, Major League Soccer reversed a decision to ban anti-fascist flags from being displayed at the stadiums of its clubs across the United States and Canada.

The move to go back on their position came in the aftermath of sustained protests from various supporters groups, as well as vocal input from high-profile sports stars, including ex NBA player Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

Following discussions between the league, fans and clubs, MLS announced that a "working group" would be formed in order to review the Fan Code of Conduct.

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According to MLS President and Deputy Commissioner Mark Abbott, the aim of the group is to "ensure clarity and consistency" in the rules governing appropriate supporters' behaviour.

So what exactly is all the fuss about and why was there a ban in the first place? Goal brings you everything you need to know.

What is the Iron Front symbol?

The Iron Front symbol (sometimes referred to as the Three Arrows) is logo which was used in the 1930s as part of a movement against Nazism.

The symbol itself is three arrows pointing south-westerly (down and to the left) enclosed in a circle, though the circle is not wholly necessary.

In the original imagery, the three arrows were symbolically opposed to Adolf Hitler and the Nazis, Ernst Thalmann's Communist Party and the conservative politics of Franz von Papen.

First used by social democrats in Germany, the symbol soon spread across the world and has become a familiar banner for anti-fascist organisations, such as the 'Antifa' network.

Why did MLS ban the Iron Front flag?

The display of the Iron Front symbol became an issue for MLS when such banners were deemed to be in contravention of the Fan Code of Conduct.

The specific part of the Code of Conduct is the use of "(including on any sign or other visible representation) political, threatening, abusive, insulting, offensive language and/or gestures, which includes racist, homophobic, xenophobic, sexist or otherwise inappropriate language or behavior."

Its political connotations and apparent association with the 'antifa' movement in America, which has reportedly engaged in violence, meant that the Iront Front symbol was considered inappropriate by MLS.

In defiance of MLS's handling of the issue - which included the ejection and banning of some supporters - a number of supporters groups staged protests at games by continuing to display the symbol.

Arguments advanced in favour of the supporters' use of the Iron Front symbol suggest that it is not a political gesture or an expression of support for militant antifa groups.

Instead, it is claimed that the use of the Iron Front symbol is driven solely by a will to support and defend human rights against fascism.

As noted, the sustained opposition to the MLS's ruling on the matter ultimately led to the reversal of the ban. However, it is a temporary suspension, lasting until the end of the season.

The issue will be reviewed once the recently convened working group arrives at a conclusion on the matter of the Fan Code of Conduct.

It is important to understand that MLS is by no means unique in banning political or provocative symbols at football matches.

FIFA, UEFA and other administrative organisations have explicit rules regarding the display of such banners and punish both clubs and individuals.