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Major League Soccer will make its return to play from the coronavirus shutdown on July 8 with a 54-match tournament that will span the course of 35 days, the league announced last week. The MLS is Back Tournament will take place at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney World Resort in Lake Buena Vista, Florida, with no spectators.
MLS will not be playing the national anthem before games during its resumed season, MLS commissioner Don Garber said. No fans will be present and MLS teams will not be lining up before the start of games.
On Tuesday, MLS released a statement that supported players’ right to peacefully protest during the national anthem before games, but the league will not be playing the anthem before games.
“We won’t be playing the anthem,” Garber told reporters in a media call. “There’s not going to be any fans in the stands, so we didn’t see that it would be appropriate. And I feel today no different than I felt then, which is if a player is looking to express their right to kneel during the national anthem, they should have the right to do so. I would hope that they would stand, but if they opt not to, that’s their prerogative and we will support that.”
Kneeling during the national anthem became a focus in sports after former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick began kneeling in 2016 as a peaceful protest against police brutality and racial inequities in the justice system.
Women’s soccer star Megan Rapinoe joined Kaepernick and began to kneel in protest during the playing of the national anthem. Rapinoe, a member of the U.S. women’s national soccer team and the Seattle Reign of the National Women’s Soccer League, said the move was in support of Kaepernick. The United States Soccer Federation’s board of directors voted on Tuesday to repeal its policy that requires athletes to stand during the national anthem before games.
All 26 MLS teams will be back in action in games that count toward the regular season standings when they return next month. The winner of the tournament will earn a spot at the 2021 CONCACAF Champions League and the competition features 16 straight days of games in the group stage.