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Ulster Rugby denies poppy insult to war dead during Remembrance Sunday clash with Dragons

By Adrian Rutherford

Ulster Rugby has defended the absence of a poppy on its shirts on Remembrance Sunday amid allegations of a calculated insult to the war dead.

Some fans and politicians were angry poppies were not worn by players during a match in Wales.

A veterans' charity accused Ulster Rugby of disgracing itself.

TUV leader Jim Allister branded it a "calculated snub and slight" and said he would write to the club to voice his dismay.

"They chose to play on Remembrance Sunday, so the least they could have done was have a modicum of respect for the day," he told the Belfast Telegraph.

Ulster Rugby said several other clubs had not worn a poppy during games at the weekend.

The row overshadowed the team's 19-12 Pro12 league victory over Newport Gwent Dragons - their first away win in seven months. Opposition players had poppies woven into their shirts.

Angry fans said the snub was "shameful", accusing the team of lacking decency and respect.

Ulster Rugby's Kingspan stadium has a memorial to players killed in the First and Second World Wars. In a statement,Ulster Rugby said: "Players and supporters respectfully observed a minute's silence prior to the fixture against Newport Gwent Dragons on Sunday. Kingspan Stadium has a permanent War Memorial Arch, which pays respect to those fallen during both world wars. Each year Ulster Rugby pays respect in its usual and traditional manner with a memorial service at the arch, during which a wreath is laid by the Ulster Rugby president."

Ulster Rugby said Wasps played Gloucester in the Aviva Premiership on Sunday and neither club wore a poppy on their jerseys.

"No other Guinness Pro12 club, with the exception of Newport Gwent Dragons and Cardiff Blues, wore a poppy on their jerseys this weekend," it added.

Robert McCartney, an ex-soldier who runs the Beyond the Battlefield charity, said the absence of a poppy was "an insult".

He told the BBC's Talkback programme: "The reason they are able to play sport is because of the freedom these men gave them and if they can't put the poppy on their shirt for one day and show that respect, then they really did disgrace themselves yesterday."

However, Doug Beattie, an Ulster Unionist councillor and former Army captain, said he believed remembrance was a "personal thing". "I don't like the word poppy fascism or poppy Stalinism ... on this issue I feel people should wear the poppy if they want to wear the poppy; if they don't then they should not," he said.

The Belfast Telegraph asked Ulster Rugby if the players had been given any say on the matter, but did not receive a response.

Mr Allister said the club had many more questions to answer.

"They haven't explained themselves at all," he added. "I don't think it's good enough just to say they're going to have a service."

Mr Allister said he did not believe every player, left to their own decision, would have snubbed the poppy. "The fact that they weren't afforded the opportunity suggests to me that someone, somewhere thought it would be a good idea not to display a poppy," he claimed.

"The least that is now acceptable from Ulster Rugby is an assurance that from now on, if they play on Remembrance weekend, they will display a poppy."

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