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FAI face FIFA sanction as English and Scottish associations defend poppy stance

Published 04/11/2016

FIFA has opened disciplinary proceedings against the FAI
FIFA has opened disciplinary proceedings against the FAI

FIFA has opened disciplinary proceedings against the Football Association of Ireland over a symbol worn on the team's shirts in a March friendly which related to Easter Rising.

The players wore jerseys in their game against Switzerland on March 25 bearing a symbol to mark the 100th anniversary of the uprising against British rule.

There has been no official response from the FAI but there is understood to be surprise at the timing of the news, more than seven months after the incident in question but right in the middle of a row between the governing body and the English and Scottish associations over their planned use of the poppy logo.

A statement from FIFA in relation to the Easter Rising symbol read: "We can confirm that disciplinary proceedings have been opened on this matter. Please understand we cannot comment further at this stage nor speculate on any outcome."

Both the Football Association (FA) and Scottish Football Association (SFA) intend to press ahead with plans to commemorate Armistice Day by allowing players to wear black armbands embroidered with a poppy during the World Cup qualifier on November 11.

FIFA has stated that the poppy symbol would breach its rules regarding political, religious or commercial messages being carried on players' equipment, though the definition of what is or is not political remains fiercely debated.

The FA and SFA insist the poppy is a symbol of remembrance and respect and should not be regarded as political.

Damian Collins MP, chairman of the Commons' Culture, Media and Sport select committee, has petitioned FIFA over use of the poppy and admitted in an interview with the Irish Post on Thursday that he had drawn attention to the Republic of Ireland jerseys in those discussions.

"I wrote to FIFA earlier in the week about the poppy ruling and I followed that up with a further question, citing the friendly matches that the Republic of Ireland played as an example," the newspaper quotes Collins as saying.

"I just wanted to ask why that was allowed but they want to enforce a stiffer ruling against the wearing of a poppy.

"If it's a point of principle for FIFA, then the principle should apply universally.

"I don't have any issue at all with the Ireland players wearing commemorations for the Easter Rising, I just think the ruling against the poppy is wrong and inappropriate of FIFA."

Collins' intervention has drawn significant opprobrium from Irish fans on Twitter.

The Royal British Legion, meanwhile, has echoed calls for FIFA to reconsider its position.

RBL director general Charles Byrne said: "The red poppy is a symbol of remembrance and hope for a peaceful future. It has no political, religious or commercial meaning.

"Since 1921 the Legion has protected the red poppy from political or partisan misuse and ensured it remains a symbol that can be worn with pride by those of all ages, backgrounds, and political and religious beliefs.

"We ask you, FIFA, in the strongest terms, that you rethink your approach to remembrance and the use of the poppy, and permit players to honour the commitment and sacrifices of the Armed Forces."

FIFA stated its position in a statement released on Thursday, which read: "FIFA fully respects the significance of commemorating Remembrance Day on November 11 each year.

"The Laws of the Game are overseen by the International Football Association Board (composed of the four British FAs and FIFA) and (are) applicable to all 211 member associations. The relevant Law 4, para. 4, clearly states that the players equipment should not carry any political, religious or commercial messages.

"The Laws are applied uniformly in the event of similar requests by any member association to commemorate similar historic events."

The Easter Rising took place in April 1916, with a group of around 1,000 rebels who sought an independent Irish Republic rising up to challenge the British Government. Fifteen of the rebellion leaders were later executed.

It is not clear what the sanction will be for the FAI if it is found to have breached FIFA's laws, or what sanction would be imposed on the FA or SFA if they press ahead with their plans for the poppy armband.

A compromise was reached with FIFA to allow England players to wear a poppy armband during the friendly against Spain in November 2011, but the leadership of the world governing body, which has changed significantly in the intervening five years, has taken a tougher stance this time.

SFA chief executive Stewart Regan has nevertheless played down talk of possible sanctions, saying: "That assumes that we are found guilty of breaking the law.

"We are prepared to defend our position and we don't believe that will be as big a concern as perhaps people are making it out to be.

"Myself and Martin Glenn, the FA chief executive, met with FIFA general secretary Fatma Samoura, we had a discussion about it on Wednesday night and FIFA made their point that they felt we may be in breach of law four of the laws of the game.

"Ourselves and the FA don't believe we are.

"We are prepared to defend our position and we believe we need to do what is right and that is to respect those who have lost their lives and pay due respect on Armistice Day when we play England at Wembley."

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