Belfast Telegraph

Fifa condemned after UK national teams fined over poppy displays

A poppy armband worn by England's Wayne Rooney at Wembley
A poppy armband worn by England's Wayne Rooney at Wembley

Politicians and veterans' groups have criticised Fifa after football's world governing body fined all four UK national football associations over the wearing of Remembrance poppies during games in November.

The English Football Association (FA) was ordering to pay 45,000 Swiss francs (£35,308) for several incidents including players wearing poppies on armbands during a World Cup qualifier against Scotland at Wembley on Armistice Day.

The visitors, whose players also wore the armbands during the November 11 match, were ordered to pay 20,000 Swiss francs (£15,692).

The FA of Wales was fined 20,000 Swiss francs (£15,692) and the Irish FA 15,000 Swiss francs (£11,769) for breaches of rules by Wales and Northern Ireland during games against Serbia and Azerbaijan respectively, including the wearing of poppies by spectators.

The English FA said it would appeal against the fine as the decision by the embattled world football body was criticised by the Government.

Sports minister Tracey Crouch said: "It is disappointing that Fifa has not recognised the sentiment of the poppy, which is not a political symbol. Poppies are a poignant tribute to the bravery and sacrifice of our servicemen and women, and footballers and fans alike should be able to wear them with pride."

England and Scotland players wore the armbands - for which there was a precedent set in 2011 for an England match in Spain - despite warnings from Fifa that punishment, including points deductions, could follow.

Wales and Northern Ireland took heed of that warning and wore plain black armbands, but were fined for other perceived misdemeanours.

The Football Association of Ireland was fined 5,000 Swiss francs (4,680 euros or £3,937) after Republic of Ireland players wore shirts commemorating the 1916 Easter Rising in a friendly against Switzerland in March.

Claudio Sulser, chairman of the Fifa disciplinary committee, said it respected the significance of Remembrance to the UK nations, but added: "In the stadium and on the pitch, there is only room for sport, nothing else."

The Royal British Legion's 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.

"Of particular concern is Fifa's reference to spectators wearing a 'political symbol'. The poppy represents sacrifices made in the defence of freedom, and so the decision to wear it must be a matter of personal choice for both players and spectators."

Downing Street described Fifa's actions as "disappointing".

Prime Minister Theresa May's official spokeswoman said: "We continue to believe that footballers and fans should be able very clearly to show their support for all that our armed forces do."

Asked whether the UK's football associations should pay the fines, the spokeswoman said the Department of Culture, Media and Sport was "looking at what happens next".

An FA spokesman said: "We note the decision by the Fifa disciplinary committee, which we intend to appeal. As a first step, we have written to Fifa requesting the grounds for the decision."


From Belfast Telegraph