MLB moves All-Star Game out of Georgia following outcry over voting law

Decision by US baseball league is one of the most significant national corporate protests of the new voting rules in Georgia

FILE - Cardboard cutouts of fans in the otherwise empty seats face the field during the sixth inning of a baseball game between the Atlanta Braves and Tampa Bay Rays in Atlanta, in this Thursday, July 30, 2020, file photo. Georgia’s new voting law _ which critics claim severely limits access to the ballot box, especially for people of color _ has prompted calls from as high as the White House to consider moving the midsummer classic out of Atlanta. The game is set for July 13 at Truist Park, the Braves’ 41,000-seat stadium in suburban Cobb County.(AP Photo/John Amis, File)

Major League Baseball (MLB) Commissioner Robert Manfred said the league was relocating its 2021 All-Star Game and MLB Draft from Atlanta following outcry over the US state of Georgia's new voting restrictions.

The removal of the lucrative All-Star Game marks one of the most significant and high-profile protests after Georgia last week strengthened identification requirements for absentee ballots, shortened early voting periods for run-offs and made it a crime to offer food and water to people waiting in line to vote.

"I have decided that the best way to demonstrate our values as a sport is by relocating this year's All-Star Game and MLB Draft," Mr Manfred said in a written statement.

"Major League Baseball fundamentally supports voting rights for all Americans and opposes restrictions to the ballot box."

The voting law, which was endorsed by the state's Republican Governor Brian Kemp, faces legal challenges from civil rights groups and others who say it aims to suppress voting among black people and other racial minorities.

Mr Kemp said MLB's leadership had "caved to fear, political opportunism and liberal lies".

"Georgians – and all Americans – should fully understand what the MLB's knee-jerk decision means: cancel culture and woke political activists are coming for every aspect of your life, sports included," Mr Kemp said in a written statement, describing the removal of the game as "an attack on our state".

Democratic President Joe Biden has been sharply critical of the law and on Wednesday said he would support moving the game as a form of protest, telling ESPN, "This is Jim Crow on steroids what they're doing in Georgia."

Mr Manfred said the league made the decision after consulting with clubs as well as current and former players, and he said it was finalising plans for a new host city.

"Fair access to voting continues to have our game’s unwavering support," said Mr Manfred a day after the league kicked off its 2021 regular season.

The decision set off strong reactions from across the political spectrum.

"What a pathetic and weak decision by MLB to give in to the radical left's false attack on Georgia voting laws!" Republican Senator Lindsey Graham wrote on Twitter. "I hope the people of Georgia remember this in 2022 when they will have a chance to check/stop the Biden agenda in the Georgia US Senate race."

Stacey Abrams, an influential voting rights activist and fierce critic of the bill who had nevertheless cautioned against boycotts, said she was disappointed the game would be moved but "proud" of the league's stance on voting rights.

Ms Abrams, who narrowly lost a bid for governor of Georgia in 2018, said on Twitter that Republican leaders had "traded economic opportunity for suppression" and she urged "events and productions to come and speak out or stay and fight."

"Just as elections have consequences, so do the actions of those who are elected," Atlanta's Democratic Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said on Twitter. "Unfortunately, the removal of the MLB All Star game from Georgia is likely the first of many dominoes to fall."

The fight is the latest flashpoint between corporate America and states over voting rights. Atlanta-based Coca-Cola and Delta Air Lines joined a bid by US companies to challenge the restrictions on Wednesday.

The Atlanta Braves, who were set to host the All-Star Game at their recently constructed Truist Park, said they were deeply disappointed.

"The Braves organisation will continue to stress the importance of equal voting opportunities," the team said in a written statement. "Unfortunately, businesses, employees and fans in Georgia are the victims of this decision."

Speculation began almost immediately over which ballpark would assume hosting duties for the All-Star Game, an annual tradition popular with fans.

Democratic California Governor Gavin Newsom offered his state shortly after the league made its announcement, writing on Twitter: "Hey MLB – feel free to give us a call. In California we actually work to expand voter access – not prevent it."