When the Vancouver Whitecaps work on improving their play on the soccer field, a Campbell River fan hopes the team will work on its off-field play as well.
Joshua Griffith was at the centre of another storm of controversy involving the Major League Soccer franchise. On Thursday Griffith was told he was banned from attending the last three games of the Whitecaps’ season after he displayed an anti-fascist and anti-racist sign at a recent game at B.C. Place against New York City FC on Aug. 31.
The sign said “#AUnitedFront Against Racism, Against Fascism” on one side and showed the Iron Front symbol on the other. When he brought it to the stadium, security staff went through his bags like they always do and nobody said anything. It wasn’t until the end of the game with five minutes left to go that somebody came up to him and told him that the sign contravened team and league policy and they hadn’t been approved. All signs have to be approved by the team but Griffith said he’s never had that done for any of his signs.
On Thursday, Griffith tweeted about his ban after receiving a phone call from a Whitecaps representative informing him of it. Since that tweet went out, Griffith’s phone “hasn’t stopped ringing” with calls from various media outlets.
So I just received a Call from the @WhitecapsFC and apparantly because @bcplace doesnt check the signs that I have been bringing in every game I have been Banned for the remaining 3 matches @MLS #AUnitedFront pic.twitter.com/YSg366ZW2Z
— Joshua (@JoshuaGriffith0) September 5, 2019
Shortly after the story got out, Griffith received another call from the team saying he wasn’t supposed to get a ban but instead was only supposed to get a warning. There had been an internal “communication error.”
Griffith hopes the team learns from that error.
“I’d like to see them improve what they’re doing going forward,” Griffith said, “and maybe, you know, learn from their mistake, get some processes in place.”
For example, Griffith doesn’t understand why the three-game ban came in the form of a phone call from a team representative. He would have thought something like that would come in a formal letter on team letterhead either mailed or emailed to him.
“Hopefully, they can improve on how they do things in the future,” Griffith said.
The team was at the centre of controversy earlier in the season after a former player, Ciara McCormak, wrote a blog speaking out about abusive behaviour by a former coach with the Whitecaps women’s team in 2007 and 2008, Bob Birarda. The lack of action or acknowledgement by the current team lead to the team’s supporters groups, Southsiders and Curva Collective, staging in-game walkouts to demand action. That eventually lead to the team meeting with players affected, issuing an apology and engaging an outside consultant to review the actions taken in 2008.
The league and the team have a policy of not allowing “political” signs to be displayed at MLS games. That policy has put the league and teams at odds with supporters who have taken to displaying messages against fascism and racism in other stadiums across the league. The issue has been particularly focused on the Pacific Northwest where supporters groups in Portland have been prominent on this issue.
A specific symbol that supporters have been using has been at the centre of the controversy. It’s the Iron Front symbol which originated with opponents to the Nazis in the 1930s in Germany. Because it was associated with a specific political movement in the 1930s, MLS has deemed it as a political symbol which contravenes league sign policy.
Griffith always brings signs to the Whitecaps games. He has travelled from the Island to home games at Vancouver’s BC Place stadium eight times this year and even went to watch the Whitecaps play Portland in the Oregon city. He’s only recently become a Whitecaps fan, becoming a supporter about three years ago.
The timing of the controversy over the sign is unfortunate because Griffith was considering buying season’s tickets and had phoned the team enquiring about them. In fact, when he received a call from the team on Thursday and saw the team’s number on call display, he thought it was about his season ticket request. Instead, it was to be informed about the three-game ban.
Many Whitecaps fans have taken to social media forums to talk about not renewing their season tickets because the team has been playing so poorly – they currently sit in last place in MLS’ western division. Particularly galling is the perceived lack of spending of a windfall the team received from the development and selling of Canadian soccer phenom Alphonso Davies to German soccer giants FC Bayern Munich for what could be as much as $22 million. Fans had hoped to see that money put into acquiring big name players like rival teams across MLS – particularly Canadian rival Toronto – have done in order to develop a winning team.
Griffith has taken signs to every game he’s been to. They’re usually of the “Go Whitecaps” variety or cheering on certain players.
But he decided to start bringing a sign to show his support for the anti-fascist and anti-racist positions that other supporters groups in the league have been taking.
“I think it’s an important message to send,” Griffith said.
He even suggested the team could do something to send a similar message after this controversy. Ironically, MLS and the Whitecaps both have official anti-racism campaigns and Griffith sent the Whitecaps an email suggesting they could do something to affirm its support for those kinds of messages after this recent controversy. A sign of its own on the field or something like that.
“Take a negative situation and use it to send a positive message,” Griffith said.
The team has extended an apology to Griffith and he’s willing to put the controversy behind him.