Irish FA to ask Fifa for money back after poppy u-turn
Determined Irish Football Association chiefs are to pursue a full refund from Fifa after football's world governing body made a dramatic climb down over their ban of poppies at international matches.
The IFA were fined £12,000 last year following their Armistice Day commemorations ahead of the World Cup qualifier against Azerbaijan at the National Stadium.
Fifa argued that the poppy was a 'political symbol' and punished the IFA for ignoring its ruling which prohibits slogans or symbols which are considered to be personal, political or religious.
But in recent days the Zurich-based organisation has issued new guidelines to permit an international player to wear a poppy to remember their nation's war dead - provided the opposition agrees.
Therefore, should Northern Ireland reach the 2018 World Cup play-offs in November, they will now be allowed to salute their fallen heroes at with a similar Windsor Park poppy display as last year without fear of repercussions.
The IFA have declined to comment on Fifa's change of heart until the matter has been officially settled, but the Belfast Telegraph understands Chief Executive Patrick Nelson and President David Martin will raise the issue of a refund at the earliest opportunity.
At his squad announcement for the upcoming World Cup qualifiers against Germany and Norway, Michael O’Neill said: “I know how difficult it was around last year in terms of should the poppy be displayed, should it not.
“At times, from a football point of view, I think it was an unwelcome distraction for us. But certainly now, I think it’s a decision for the association, it’s not a decision for me.
“I will obviously take instruction from the association, but hopefully we get clarity early as I just want the players to focus on the football.”
All four home nations received admonishments from Fifa over their respective Remembrance Day activities, with the English FA hit hardest with a £35,000 fine, while the Scottish and Welsh associations were both slapped with £15,000 penalties.
But while England, Scotland and Wales all lodged appeals — and as a result never actually paid a penny — the IFA’s punishment was under the threshold for appeal and they were forced to cough up, even though they considered taking their case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
An IFA insider at the time told the Belfast Telegraph: “The IFA disagree completely with Fifa’s designation of the poppy as a political or religious symbol and, along with the other home nations, will continue to press that point which, significantly, the European governing body, Uefa, appear to accept.”
In a statement, the Irish FA said: “The board of the Irish FA wishes to express its severe disappointment that the Fifa disciplinary committee issued the association with a fine and a reprimand for acts of remembrance at the Northern Ireland v Azerbaijan game on Armistice Day.
“In the weeks leading up to the match on November 11, the Irish FA had discussions with Fifa to get guidance on what was permitted within the laws of the game.
“Having followed that guidance in the delivery of the acts of remembrance at the match, it is extremely disappointing that the Fifa disciplinary committee came to the conclusions that it did.”