The International Sports Law Journal

, Volume 19, Issue 1–2, pp 102–115 | Cite as

Separation of sport and State: military salutations at US Major League Soccer events

  • Kendra Magraw


A central tenet of the international sports movement is that sport should be unfettered by politics—in other words, there must be a separation of sport and State. This is regulated by many governing bodies, such as the IOC and FIFA, which prohibit almost all forms of political statements. Nonetheless, sports events can be powerful platforms and many actors have utilised them for political means. This article addresses the now-common phenomenon at US professional sport events of paying homage to the military. This assumes various forms, often consisting of announcers directing the audience to pay tribute to the US armed forces or veterans prior to or during a match. A 2015 enquiry by two US Congresspersons exposed that the US Government had paid over USD 10 million to US professional sports leagues for such tributes, without disclosing the paid nature thereof to sports events audiences, a practice termed ‘paid patriotism’. Focusing on Major League Soccer, one league whose teams were documented to have held paid military tributes, this article argues that, paid or unpaid, such military salutations are impermissible political statements and thus inconsistent with the applicable (FIFA) regulations. Parallels are drawn to the wearing of poppies and associated homages on Remembrance Day organised by the English, Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish Football Associations. As a result of the poppy controversy, IFAB modified the Laws of the Game leading up to the 2018 Russia World Cup to permit commemorations of a ‘significant national and international event’. Nevertheless, military salutations remain impermissible political statements within the modified rule.


Political statements Military tributes Poppy gate Poppy wars Paid patriotism MLS FIFA World Cup IFAB Laws of the Game Soccer Football 



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Copyright information

© T.M.C. Asser Instituut 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kendra Magraw
    • 1
  1. 1.Graduate Institute of International and Development StudiesGenevaSwitzerland

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