Football fans at odds with US league as politics seeps into beautiful game

Keeping Score

Football executives from all over the world are meeting in Portugal for the Soccerex forum. They’re discussing different ways of selling a sport that’s become both tribal and global. Young fans are a crucial and lucrative market for clubs and leagues.

Amid increasing polarization in many parts of the world, some fans are increasingly mixing politics with sport, and that’s where it starts to get complicated.

CGTN’s Owen Fairclough reports.

It may be just a midweek friendly match.

But D.C. United’s most hardcore fans won’t ease up on the tempo against their opponents, Mexico’s Club Puebla.

These fanatics pounding the drum at the Washington club’s Audi Stadium believe in a unity aimed at leaving politics on the sidelines.

And yet America’s widening political polarization is starting to upend that idea.

Some Portland Timbers fans have been handed temporary bans for flying an anti-fascist symbol challenging far-right movements emboldened by the Trump presidency.

That’s because the insignia breached Major League Soccer’s revised code of conduct effectively banning fans from using political language and gestures—adding to established rules against racist, homophobic, xenophobic or sexist behavior.

Some fans object to these new sanctions against political expression.

“I think it’s hypocritical to be honest,” fan Grant Joiner said.

“They do a Pride month so they’re already delving into potentially political spaces.”

Another fan, Erin Dunn said: “I understand the importance of separating teams from politics, especially in D.C., our nation’s capital, can get pretty heated. To me, I think fans can do what they want.”

And there’s research to suggest Major League Soccer may be out of step with modern fans.

A new report by soccer media company COPA90 found that 82% of young U.S. fans felt their club should be more outspoken about political and social issues—and that was higher than for fans in Brazil, China and the U.K.

But if the fans feel stifled, some athletes don’t.

Megan Rapinoe has become a global icon—as much for her skills that contributed to a record fourth women’s World Cup as for her criticism of President Trump and demands for equal pay.

James Kirkham of COPA90 on what drives young football fans

Owen Fairclough interviewed James Kirkham, COPA90’s Chief Business Officer, and asked him what was the most surprising discovery in the company’s latest report looking at young football fans in Brazil, China, the U.S. and U.K.