Banning fans’ free speech is not consistent with our vision of sport. Or democracy

MLS fans have been banned for displaying flags with the anti-fascist Iron Front symbol. But it is crucial that peaceful political statements are allowed in sports

“Push ‘em back, push ‘em back, waaay back!” is a classic American football chant encouraging the players to muscle the opposition back down the field. Today’s fan participation is a lot more complicated, especially after Major League Soccer recently banned a group of Portland Timbers fans from attending three matches at Providence Park for waving flags that displayed the anti-fascist Iron Front symbol (this weekend, Seattle Sounders fans walked out of a match in protest at the ban on “political” banners). Now when we yell that nostalgic “Push ‘em back” cheer we have to ask more complicated questions, such as who does “’em” refer to: the opposing team, the owners, or the fans? By “push” do you mean to bully people – owners, non-political fans, outspoken fans – out of their rights? And by “way back” do you mean back out of the stadium or back to the 1950s when politics and sports rarely crossed paths?

For 50 years, I have been an outspoken supporter of athletes’ right to silently protest during sporting events. Whether it’s raising a fist, as Tommie Smith and John Carlos did during the 1968 Olympics, or Colin Kaepernick taking a knee during the national anthem, or LeBron James wearing an “I Can’t Breathe” t-shirt while warming up for a game, athletes have a constitutional right to express their outrage over social injustice in the hopes of improving lives. Clearly, fans should have those same rights. But no one’s rights are absolute when the act of expressing them may restrict someone else’s rights. So, when championing the fans’ rights in this situation, there are a few considerations that have to be acknowledged.

Related: MLS and Antifa: America's top flight grapples with political signage ban

You can read a full archive of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s articles for the Guardian here.

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Héber: from partnering Firmino in Brazil to replacing David Villa in NYC

Heber played alongside ‘Alberto’ Firmino in his teens before spells in Armenia and Croatia earned him a move to New York

By Joshua Law for Yellow & Green Football

Héber didn’t have to think twice. He had received a phone call from Srecko Juricic, sporting director of Croatian club HNK Rijeka, who told him that New York City FC were preparing to make a bid. “I said I’d go,” recalls the Brazilian forward. “The scout from New York City went to Rijeka and showed me the project. It was an easy decision.” Six months on, it is not one he regrets. Héber has scored 14 goals in 17 starts in MLS, including a spectacular late winner against local rivals New York Red Bulls in August, and confirmed himself as this season’s breakthrough star.

Héber’s move to the US is is just the latest step in a winding and sometimes difficult career that has taken him from the Amazon to New York via the Brazilian lower leagues and the outer reaches of European football. He seems delighted with his new club. “The league is really good, the infrastructure is great, the stadium is always full,” he says.

Related: Inside the Grêmio academy, home of Brazil's brightest young footballers

Related: Iván Zamorano on Ronaldo, Chile at the Copa América and his 1+8 shirt

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Is MLS blessed with brilliant attackers … or terrible defenders?

Goals are up this season in MLS and players such as Zlatan Ibrahimovic are thriving. But are they just feasting on easy pickings?

Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s 50th game in Major League Soccer came earlier this month. The LA Galaxy suffered a soul-crushing 4-3 defeat to the Seattle Sounders, conceding in the 89th minute, but not before their Swedish frontman had contributed a goal and an assist, bringing his tally in his first 50 league appearances to 55 combined goals and assists.

Ordinarily, this would be an unprecedented achievement, but Ibrahimovic’s productivity had already been all but matched by Josef Martinez and Carlos Vela who both managed 54 combined goals and assists in their first 50 MLS games. These are three very different players playing for three different teams, but as a trio they are setting a new standard.

Related: MLS and Antifa: America's top flight grapples with political signage ban

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Sportswashing: how Saudi Arabia lobbies the US’s largest sports bodies

Saudi Arabia’s relatively sudden interest in sports can be construed as a soft power tactic to help distract from the kingdom’s ongoing human rights abuses and the Yemen crisis

Last month, the foreign registration documentation for Saudi Arabia’s 2018 lobbying campaign in the United States were made available online. The documents shed light on the kingdom’s aggressive sportswashing strategy that included meetings and business calls with the commissioners for Major League Soccer (MLS), the National Basketball Association (NBA), Major League Baseball (MLB), as well as officials from World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), and the Los Angeles Olympic Committee.

Saudi Arabia’s strategic interest in sports and entertainment events dates back to November 2016 when crown prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the kingdom’s General Sports Authority – the government body responsible for the development of sports in the kingdom – to set up a Sports Development Fund that bolstered sports activity in the country. The objectives of the fund were to privatize football clubs to increase participation, promote new sports events, and add 40,000 jobs to the economic marketplace as part of Vision 2030, a development proposal that laid out a modern, technocratic future for Saudi Arabia in which the country would be free of its heavy dependence on oil.

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‘If he was 28, not 38’: Man Utd’s Solskjær plays down Ibrahimovic return – video

Ole Gunnar Solskjær said on Friday he will 'always speak to' Zlatan Ibrahimovic - but added that he didn't believe the striker was serious about a return to Manchester United.

Earlier this week, Ibrahimovic was quoted saying 'if United needs me, I'm here', having netted 44 goals in 49 matches for LA Galaxy in the MLS. 

The Swede scored 26 times in his debut season at Old Trafford, in 2016/17, but suffered a ligament injury towards the end of that campaign, and made just seven appearances the following season.

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