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Gerry Armstrong hits out at Fifa over 'shocking' poppy fine

By Gareth Fullerton

Northern Ireland legend Gerry Armstrong has branded Fifa's decision to fine the Irish FA over last month's Armistice Day act of remembrance as "shocking".

The IFA have been ordered to pay 15,000 Swiss Francs (£11,783), after poppy symbols were displayed during the World Cup qualifier against Azerbaijan at Windsor Park on November 11.

The fine was imposed after a three-man disciplinary committee found the association of breaking Rule 4.4, which concerns political, religious or commercial messages at football matches.

Fifa has a ban on political symbols, and also fined the English, Scottish and Welsh FAs for similar breaches of rules.

Former Northern Ireland striker Armstrong - who scored 12 goals in 63 appearances for Northern Ireland, including a famous winner against hosts Spain at the 1982 World Cup finals - has hit out at Fifa following this week's fines.

"I really can't believe that Fifa have imposed these fines on all the home nations - it is so disappointing.

"I really don't know why they have pursued this in such a vigorous manner," Armstrong said.

"Millions of people paid the ultimate sacrifice in conflicts down the years, and we have acts of remembrance to remember that sacrifice.

"Maybe Fifa thought they would hit the Irish FA with a small fine and then it would be swept under the carpet, but you have seen the public outcry.

"It certainly isn't an issue that is going away quietly.

"I am very disappointed by Fifa's reaction, not just to the IFA, but also the English, Scottish and Welsh FAs."

The IFA's fine is the smallest out of the four home nations. The English FA have been hit with a penalty of 45,000 Swiss Francs (£35,350), after players wore poppies on armbands during their match with Scotland.

The Scottish Football Association has been ordered to pay 20,000 Swiss Francs (£15,711), the same as the Welsh FA.

The penalties came after Fifa had warned of punishments ahead of the international fixtures.

"I am glad the IFA haven't been hit with a massive fine, but it doesn't take away from the fact that Fifa felt the need to take action on this matter," Armstrong added.

"There has been a public outcry about this, and I am not surprised by the reaction.

"Fifa obviously don't care about the feelings and emotions of people who lost loved ones over the years. People care about paying their respects to the dead, and I think what the IFA did before the Azerbaijan game, was dignified and respectful.

"I think Fifa are out of touch when it comes to this matter. I really do wonder what kind of person comes up with these rules. I would love to know the rationale behind it all.

"It is sad when all the home nations are being punished for acts of remembrance. It has been thrust under a spotlight, and it is sad that this has become an issue."

While the English, Scottish and Welsh FAs can all contest their penalties, the Irish FA's fine falls below Fifa's threshold for appeal, denying Windsor Park chiefs of the chance to challenge the decision.

The IFA is still considering its options, however, and is expected to meet tonight to discuss any potential legal route it can pursue.

Association chiefs are demanding to know why they were fined in a way that leaves no right to reply.

Communities Minister, Paul Givan, whose brief includes sport, revealed this week that the Irish FA was considering joining forces with the English, Scottish and Welsh FAs to tackle Fifa.

Former star Armstrong, hopes the Irish FA fight the matter, but concedes it may be a waste of time.

"I really hope the Irish FA pursue this, but it looks as if they have no option but to accept the fine and move on," he added.

"If there is no right of appeal, then Fifa will look at it as being a closed case. It might be something that we have to accept, sadly.

"But we need clarity on the issue. It will only happen again next year, and the year after, and the year after that.

"When I was working for Sky Sports during November, we all wore poppies to show our respect and support, and to let people know that we haven't forgotten the sacrifice of those who fought and died in the wars."

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