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If you are going to ban poppy, ban football anti-racism campaign, says DUP's Gregory Campbell

By Jonny Bell

Published 24/11/2016

The teams observe a minute's silence in front of the poppy mosaic at Windsor Park
The teams observe a minute's silence in front of the poppy mosaic at Windsor Park
Army veteran Bryan Phillips and his partner Natasha

Gregory Campbell has said that if football authorities want to punish associations for displaying the poppy and remembering those that died in the service of the armed forces, then they should end their own anti-racism campaign.

The DUP MP argued that both campaigns are not political and therefore the racism campaign contradicts Fifa's own rules.

It comes after the world football governing body opened disciplinary procedures against Northern Ireland over the display of poppies and a minute's silence held on the Armistice day game against Azerbaijan.

England, Scotland and Wales also face similar action over their displays.

 

Gregory Campbell described the threat of action on the home nations as "absurd" on the BBC Stephen Nolan show.

"It's a nonsense," he said, "Fifa are the last people to lecture on rules and how to abide by them."

More: Anger grows over Fifa's probe into Northern Ireland poppy tributes - 'unfair, shameful and outrageous'

He went on: "This is about remembering our dead and what this means to people.

"Fifa actually support - and most people are very supportive of - the principle of saying 'no to racism'.

"It could be argued that could be a political statement, that it could be a humanitarian statement. But it's a statement that really shouldn't have any place on the football pitch.

"Yet Fifa and UEFA support that and demand of clubs and players that they support it.

"Why do that and now something that is remembering our honourable dead, before a game starts, deserves some sort of punishment?"

When put to the East Londonderry representative if he thought the racism campaign was political, he responded: "Is it a totally football related issue?

"[Racism is not political] and neither is the poppy.

"People have a right to express an opinion and the reason they have that right is because of the sacrifice that was made.

"That's what the associations, the players and everyone else involved in these ceremonies was expressing.

"They were giving a solemn dignified response for the dead who paid the ultimate price.

"What else do they want to kick out of football?"

More: This is payback from a discredited organisation and we are collateral damage

Mr Campbell also said Fifa officials should attend games next November and visit Remembrance services so they could "understand the solemnity and dignity involved in these commemorations".

"We are not talking about rules, we are talking about remembering our dead."

The Kick It Out campaign said it had no comment to make.

Fifa has been faced with outrage after it charged the Irish Football Association over acts of remembrance at the recent World Cup qualifier against Azerbaijan at Windsor Park.

The IFA vowed to robustly contest the charges.

It is understood Fifa has taken issue with the holding of a minute's silence held prior to kick-off at the national stadium.

The charges are also believed to relate to poppy banners in the crowd, a poppy mosaic made out of cards, and the laying of wreaths on the pitch.

IFA officials are believed to be furious over what they see is a "treacherous U-turn" by Fifa over its stance on poppies during the game, which Northern Ireland won 4-0.

The Belfast Telegraph understands the IFA had been given reassurances prior to the match that there would be no problem with Armistice Day commemorations. A source close to the IFA told this newspaper that officials were "beside themselves with rage" at facing "completely unexpected" disciplinary action.

More: IFA must battle Fifa over poppy charges

Last night Fifa was facing mounting calls to drop its "outrageous investigation".

DUP MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson accused the organisation of "acting irresponsibly" by turning the poppy into a political football.

The Football Association of Wales is also facing charges over remembrance acts before its World Cup qualifier against Serbia in Cardiff on the same weekend.

Fifa bans "political, religious or commercial messages" being used on national teams' shirts.

Both England and Scotland defied the organisation by wearing black armbands featuring the poppy for their Wembley World Cup clash.

Some have pointed out the Republic of Ireland paid tribute to the Easter Rising in a friendly match against Switzerland earlier this year - yet it went largely ignored by Fifa, who only opened disciplinary proceedings after questions were raised by the English media recently.

Fifa refused to say what charges it was bringing against the IFA.

It added: "The Disciplinary Committee decided to open proceedings against the Irish Football Association and the Football Association of Wales in relation to several incidents involving the display of poppy symbols reported after the matches Northern Ireland-Azerbaijan and Wales-Serbia respectively. Please understand we cannot comment further at this stage."

A statement from the IFA said: "The Irish Football Association will robustly defend the disciplinary charges that have been levelled against it by Fifa regarding acts of remembrance at the World Cup qualifying match between Northern Ireland and Azerbaijan on November 11."

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