Soccer-After bruising 2020, MLS invokes clause to renegotiate players' contract

FILE PHOTO: Dec 12, 2020; Columbus, Ohio, USA; Columbus Crew SC is the 2020 MLS Cup Champions after beating Seattle Sounders FC 3-0 at MAPFRE Stadium in Columbus, Ohio on December 12, 2020. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Robertson-USA TODAY NETWORK

(Reuters) -Major League Soccer (MLS) is invoking a clause to renegotiate its collective bargaining agreement (CBA) with the players' union after the COVID-19 pandemic cost it nearly $1 billion in 2020.

MLS avoided a lockout in June when its players ratified the CBA, which contained a 5% pay cut for players and a force majeure clause, which the league invoked to compel players and the league now to renegotiate the deal for 30 days.

"Unfortunately, based on the assessment of public health officials, it is clear that the impact of COVID-19 and the restrictions on attendance at sporting events will continue into the 2021 MLS season," MLS President and Deputy Commissioner Mark Abbott said in a statement.

If a new agreement cannot be reached within a month, the contract will be terminated.

The MLS Players Association (MLSPA) condemned the move.

"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 MLSPA said in a statement.

MLS suspended competition in March as the novel coronavirus brought the sports world to a grinding halt. It reopened with its "MLS is Back" tournament in a quarantined "bubble" setting in Orlando, Florida, in July and resumed the regular season in August.

But fans have largely been locked out of games because of health and safety measures, posing a significant problem for MLS, which relies heavily on in-person attendance and had already incurred the added expenses of competing inside the "bubble" at Walt Disney World.

"We recognize the impact that the pandemic has had on our players and appreciate their efforts to restart and complete the 2020 season," said Abbott.

"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."

(Reporting by Amy Tennery; editing by Grant McCool)

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