At last night’s Portland Timbers vs. Seattle Sounders match, a banner on the Timbers Army side of the stadium caught the notice of many—perhaps distracting from the Timbers’ 6-2 defeat.
The banner depicted three syringes pointed to the bottom left portion of the flag, mimicking the Iron Front, a symbol which has roots in resistance to monarchs, Nazis and communists before and during World War II, but which is now commonly used by leftist causes, particularly anti-fascists.
Sunday’s game was the first at Providence Park since the countywide indoor mask mandate went back into effect.
The stadium—which is an open-air venue—had only returned to full capacity on July 11, after Gov. Kate Brown lifted COVID-19 health and safety restrictions.
While every successive day sees more businesses declaring that they won’t provide indoor service to customers without proof of COVID vaccination, Sunday’s game at Providence Park merely asked attendees over 5 years of age to wear masks. But they didn’t have to wear them in their seats, and many of the seats were filled elbow to elbow.
The artists behind the “Anti-Covid-Front” banner were very plain in their desire to see Providence Park change its policy to no entry without proof of vaccination.
“At its core, it’s a message to the Timbers front office that they aren’t doing enough to keep us safe,” Richard Miller tells WW. Miller is part of the tifo group PTFC Moderates that created the banner and unfurled it at the stadium.
“We’re an independent tifo crew, but the banner speaks for many supporters who feel the same way.”
Tifo groups—who create visual art displays at soccer games—are named for the Italian word “tifosi,” which is, oddly enough, a play on a word for people in a feverish state. (They’re infected and feverish over their passion for their favorite team.)
The display of Iron Front flags has been a matter of some controversy at Providence Park. In 2019, Major League Soccer banned display of the anti-fascist symbol in its stadiums; Timbers Army supporters led a successful fan backlash that changed the policy.
Now the Timbers are the latest cultural institution caught in a public debate over vaccine mandates. More than two dozen Portland bars and restaurants have formed a “Vaxx Coalition” requiring proof of vaccination for entry. Mississippi Studios and Revolution Hall co-owner Kevin Cradock is asking Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury to make such a vaccine requirement at venues the policy countywide.
Such demand is occurring in the context of a huge COVID surge across Oregon fueled by the Delta variant. Over the weekend, Oregon Health & Science University sent a letter to its patients, warning that COVID cases were taking up a quarter of hospital beds and would soon overwhelm supply.
In a story related to the letter, OHSU senior associate chief medical officer Dr. Matthias Merkel told KGW that 100% of the hospital’s COVID cases were unvaccinated.