‘A step backwards’: MLS players union criticizes referee lockout

The MLS Players Association on Tuesday urged a quick resolution to the ban of the league’s referees, warning that the use of substitute match officials during the labor dispute could jeopardize players’ health.

Barring a sudden agreement, Wednesday’s 2024 MLS season opener, featuring Argentine great Lionel Messi’s Inter Miami against Real Sal Lake, will be officiated by replacement referees.

“On the eve of the 2024 MLS season, the focus must be on the competition on the field,” the MLS Players Association said in a statement.

“The use of substitute referees will not only negatively impact the quality and results of our matches, it could also compromise the health and safety of players.”

The MLSPA called the lockout and use of substitute referees a “step backwards” for the MLS and said all employees deserve fair wages, safe working conditions and the opportunity to collectively bargain in good faith.

It also urged all parties involved to return to the negotiating table and work towards a timely and fair agreement.

The Professional Referee Organization (PRO) said Saturday it has decided to ban MLS referees after the Professional Soccer Referees Association (PSRA) rejected a proposed new labor agreement.

PRO last banned MLS referees due to labor talks in 2014, when replacement officials were brought in for the first two weeks of the season.

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The PSRA said feedback from members indicated that the failed ratification was caused by issues with the compensation and benefits PRO offered, as well as a lack of improvements in travel, scheduling and other quality of life issues.

According to the PSRA, 98% of members participated in the vote, while 96% voted to reject the ratification of the provisional agreement.

The PSRA also said that substitute officials do not have the experience and aptitude needed to do the job well and that players, coaches and fans deserve referees who best know the MLS game and its rules and applications.

According to the MLS, the preliminary agreement would make PRO members among the highest-paid soccer match officials in the world.