A Vancouver Whitecaps staff member sanitizes a ball that went out of play with a disinfectant wipe as the Whitecaps and Toronto FC play during the first half of an MLS soccer match in Vancouver, on Saturday, September 5, 2020. Less than a year after agreeing to a new five-year collective bargining agreement, Major League Soccer and the players union are heading back to the bargining table. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

A Vancouver Whitecaps staff member sanitizes a ball that went out of play with a disinfectant wipe as the Whitecaps and Toronto FC play during the first half of an MLS soccer match in Vancouver, on Saturday, September 5, 2020. Less than a year after agreeing to a new five-year collective bargining agreement, Major League Soccer and the players union are heading back to the bargining table. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

MLS triggering ‘force majeure’ clause in contract over COVID-19 losses

Players union says ‘force majeure’ clause could result in club owners abandoning the new collective bargaining agreement

Less than a year after agreeing to a new five-year collective bargaining agreement, Major League Soccer and its players union are heading back to the bargaining table.

The league has told the MLS Players Association that it will trigger a “force majeure” clause in the agreement signed in January because the COVID-19 pandemic has had drastic impacts on its business.

A source with knowledge of the situation says the lack of fans has led to a significant lack of revenue and the intention of triggering the clause is to discuss modifications to the agreement over a 30-day period.

The MLS regular season was put on hold in mid-March after the virus began to spread across North America. Games began again in July with the MLS is Back tournament held in a “bubble” in Orlando.

American teams finished out the campaign in mostly empty home stadiums, but border restrictions forced the three Canadian clubs — Toronto FC, the Montreal Impact and the Vancouver Whitecaps — to temporarily move south to finish out their seasons.

MLS president and deputy commissioner Mark Abbott says in a statement that players received 95 per cent of their salaries in 2020 and the league lost nearly US$1 billion.

The players union says triggering the force majeure clause could result in the league and club owners abandoning the new collective bargaining agreement and commitments that have been made to players.

“After a 2020 season of extreme sacrifice, immeasurable risk to personal health, and a remarkable league-wide effort to successfully return to play, this tone-deaf action by the league discredits the previous sacrifices made by players and the enormous challenges they overcame in 2020,” the MLS Players Association said in a statement.

Information from health officials shows that there will continue to be restrictions on fans attending sporting events through the 2021 MLS season, so changes need to be made, Abbott said.

“We recognize the impact that the pandemic has had on our players and appreciate their efforts to restart and complete the 2020 season,” he said in a statement. “But, like the other leagues in the United States and Canada, MLS needs to address the ongoing challenges caused by the pandemic and will engage in good faith discussions with our players about ways to manage the significant economic issues we are facing.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 29, 2020.

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