Thursday, March 15, 2012

An Independent Supporters Council open letter to Don Garber

Commissioner Garber,

We are writing on behalf of the Independent Supporters Council, a group made up of twenty-seven American and Canadian supporters groups, including supporters from almost every team in Major League Soccer. Our mission is to advocate for fair treatment of home and away supporters at all levels of American and Canadian soccer.

Our members and supporters across the league are alarmed by the recent punishment handed down by the league office to supporters groups of the Houston Dynamo, including ISC member the Texian Army. We, representing supporters from across the league, support the Texian Army's official response to this matter and ask that the league meet with the Texian Army and the other Houston supporters' groups to review this unnecessarily harsh action.

We have no issue with the league taking individual action against individual fans who violate stadium policy at any league stadium. As we understand it, there have already been individual bans issued to some Dynamo supporters responsible for the problems at the MLS Cup. We do not take issue with the individual bans. But we object to the league taking retaliatory action that serves only to harm supporters' culture in Houston. The statement from MLS read “As of March 1, Dynamo traveling supporters will not be permitted to utilize items listed as Supporter Group Exemptions in the MLS Prohibited Items policy (e.g. flags, banners, confetti, drums).”

Banning flags and drums will not stop individual fans from smuggling smoke into the stadium or throwing prohibited items on the field. Cutting off safe, legal avenues of support does not punish the flashlight throwers. Instead it punishes supporters who spend their own time and money making flags and banners, and creating the atmosphere that the league loves to promote. Such broad-based punishments do not address the troublemakers. All this action does is punish the majority of supporters who show the passion and dedication you claim to value.

Furthermore, the Houston away supporters' section at the 2011 MLS Cup was a supporters' section in name only; it was a mixed group of fans, including both members of supporters groups and unaffiliated fans. It is one thing to ask the supporters to police themselves; it is not reasonable to ask them to police every Dynamo fan, especially on a trip where they were not given the opportunity to organize or screen the attendees.

We ask that the League:

  • Does not hold supporters groups responsible for the actions of unaffiliated fans. Hold the individuals who behaved poorly accountable without punishing good supporters groups.
  • When supporters do travel, take attacks on them as seriously as you do incidents involving them. Traveling fans are regularly treated to racist chants and thrown items, not from other supporters' groups, but from other fans in the stadium. They do not receive support or follow-up from security or the front office at these stadiums. This does more to contribute to ugly incidents like we saw at the MLS Cup than any number of flags or banners.
  • If the league intends to punish supporters for incidents at games, work directly with the leadership of the affected supporters' group first and give them an opportunity to appeal, rather than simply announcing an open-ended ban.

Banning flags, banners, and drums will do nothing to further the goal we both share: creating the best possible atmosphere in every American and Canadian stadium. No amount of heavy-handed bans and restrictive security measures will stop someone from throwing something on the field. That is an element that we must work together to eliminate. Work with us, not against us. Only by working with your supporters, instead of against them, will we build a relationship of mutual trust & respect and accomplish our common goals.

Sincerely,
The Independent Supporters Council