MLS

MLS launches ‘first of its kind’ restorative policy to combat discrimination

By Sports Desk February 15, 2024

Footballers who are the victims of discrimination could have the opportunity to meet with the alleged perpetrator as part of a “first of its kind” restorative policy being launched by Major League Soccer and its players.

There are more eyes on football in the United States and Canada than ever before, thanks in no small part to Lionel Messi’s blockbuster move to Inter Miami last summer.

Ever-evolving MLS and the Major League Soccer Players Association have now launched a new jointly aligned anti-discrimination policy ahead of next week’s 2024 season kick-off.

The league says the policy “is the first of its kind in professional sports in that it is centred on restorative practices, prioritising education, prevention, training, and cultural awareness”.

Sola Winley, MLS’ chief engagement and inclusion officer, said: “To bring something like this to bear is no small task.

“It takes not just a lot of smart minds, but a lot of big hearts to think outside of the box, to build a culture that’s rooted in dignity and respect.

“And to build a culture that can be a leader not just in the soccer and football landscape around the world, but in the sports landscape and beyond.”

Eric Harrington, MLSPA general counsel, said: “By embracing culturally inclusive training to prevent discrimination and restorative practices to remedy it when it occurs, we can prevent discrimination and support players who are harmed by it while providing a pathway of healing for everyone.”

MLS, the MLSPA and non-profit Black Players for Change worked together on the development of the policy and a new intercultural awareness training programme, which is required for all players and staff.

New England Revolution goalkeeper and Black Players for Change president Earl Edwards Jr said: “All players deserve to play this game free of discrimination and to have our cultures welcomed, included and respected.

“This innovative policy is a significant step in building a more inclusive game for all of us and for setting an example for all of sports.”

Under the new policy, restorative plans include the option for an alleged offender to make amends with those harmed by their conduct.

 

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Furthermore, those that accept responsibility and partake in a restorative plan will face less severe discipline from the league than if they deny committing the act and are subsequently found to be untruthful or misleading.

“The players have an option to participate if they want to,” Winley added. “We’re not forcing that.

“Our hope is that there’s pathways to the players coming together, to apologise, for the players to hear the work that others have went through. We create that space and that environment for that to happen.”

‘Playing As One’ workshops ran during pre-season, with MLS greats involved in helping to, among other things, explain banned terms and develop cultural awareness in a league with 80-plus nationalities.

“What we’ve decided is that the best way for us to do that is to build bridges of understanding, have conversations that are based on curiosity,” Winley said.

“To give grace to people when they make mistakes but, to be clear, we are moving from a position of strength and not from a position of weakness. And to be compassionate doesn’t mean that you’re weak.

“It’s easy just to suspend people. The hard work is in the rehabilitation and reintegrating, and we have made a commitment to do the hard work.

“That might not always be preferred in a court of public opinion, but if we’re true to our values and if we’re true to the goals that we have, then we feel good about the process and feel very good about what the outcome of this will be.”

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