Major League Baseball (MLB) commissioner Robert Manfred said the league is relocating its 2021 All-Star Game and MLB Draft from Atlanta, following outcry over 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 runoffs and made it a crime to offer food and water to voters waiting in line.
“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 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.”
U.S. 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 took the decision after consulting with clubs as well as current and former players, and he said it was finalizing 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 U.S. 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 & productions to come & speak out or stay & 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 GA is likely the 1st of many dominoes to fall.”
The fight is emerging as the latest flashpoint between corporate America and states over voting rights. Atlanta-based Coca-Cola Co. and Delta Air Lines joined a bid by U.S. 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 organization 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.
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.”