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MLS set for return as players union agrees new deal

Los Angeles (AFP) – Major League Soccer and the league’s players union reached agreement on a labour deal on Wednesday, clearing the way for a return to play next month following the coronavirus shutdown.

The MLS Players Association said the body had ratified a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) that would run through the 2025 season.

“Today’s vote also finalizes a plan to resume the 2020 season and provides players with certainty for the months ahead,” the MLSPA said. 

The agreement means Major League Soccer will return next month at a tournament which will be staged at a single location at Disney World in Orlando, Florida.

MLS Commissioner Don Garber said on a video-conference call with reporters that the league was expected to suffer a $1 billion revenue hit from the COVID-19 pandemic.

He said the league’s decision to restart at a neutral venue had arisen from a determination to resume competition as soon as possible.

“The uncertainty forced us to come up with a plan that at least allows us to get us back in front of our fans,” Garber said. “Clearly given our absence from the sports scene, it was crucial for us to get back.”

The players union statement meanwhile referenced the wave of protests against police brutality and racism which have erupted across the United States following the death of an unarmed African-American man in police custody in Minneapolis last week.

“We recognize that we are all moving forward — as players, as fans, as societies, as a world — into a future that looks much different than the one we envisioned a few months ago,” the MLSPA added.

– ‘Semblance of normalcy’ –

“There are problems we face collectively that are both more urgent, and more important, than competing on the field.

“We are grieving, we are fed up, we expect change, and we expect action. This change won’t come on the field, but it will come partly through the force and determination of all who seek justice and equality. 

“We hope our return to the field will allow fans a momentary release and a semblance of normalcy.”

The 2020 MLS season was put on hold in March as the coronavirus pandemic erupted across North America, sending sport across the continent grinding to a halt.

Major League Soccer’s plan to resume play with a 26-team competition in Florida was put in jeopardy earlier this week over proposed tweaks to an earlier version of the collective bargaining agreement.

The MLS and the players union had agreed the terms of a new deal in February, but the agreement was never formally ratified.

MLS sought to amend parts of the deal to factor in the financial impact of the coronavirus epidemic and possible future crises.

League chiefs had reportedly sought to insert a force majeure clause which would allow the league to back out of the CBA if five or more teams suffered a 25 percent drop in attendance figures in the event of a major crisis.

That proposed clause was not included in the deal agreed on Wednesday.

Garber however said he expected future contracts would have built-in clauses to guard against the possibility of crises like the coronavirus pandemic.

“I can assure you that force majeure clauses are going to be a part of agreements going forward,” Garber said.

ESPN cited a union source as saying that financial concessions in the new deal amounted to more $100 million (89 million euros), which included a blanket 7.5 percent salary cut and a cap on bonuses for the season of $5 million.

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