Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland boss O'Neill manager calls for clarity on poppy ban

By Allan Preston

Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill has called for clarity from the Irish Football Association after it was revealed that a Fifa ban on remembrance poppies is set to be lifted.

Last November, the football's governing body sparked outrage by fining Northern Ireland £12,000 over the display of poppies and holding a minute's silence before an Armistice Day game against Azerbaijan.

The national sides in England, Scotland and Wales faced similar sanctions.

All four home nations made representations to Fifa, arguing that the poppy is neither a political nor religious symbol.

"I know how difficult it was around last year in terms of 'should the poppy be displayed, should it not'," Mr O'Neill said yesterday.

"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 (IFA), it's not a decision for me."

He added: "I will obviously take instruction from the association, but hopefully we get clarity early.

"But as I say, the players and I just want to focus on the football."

Scotland football manager Gordon Strachan said if the ban is reversed as expected "that's just common sense".

The Ulster Unionist Party's sports spokesperson, Andy Allen MLA - a former soldier who served in Afghanistan in 2008 - said lifting the ban was long overdue.

"My stance is very clear - the poppy is not a religious or political symbol but one of freedom and sacrifice," he said.

"People must have the freedom to choose to wear it, and they must also have the freedom to decide not to wear it."

He added: "Last year we witnessed the ludicrous decision of Fifa to fine the England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland FAs for their use of the poppy during fixtures that fell over the Armistice period, deeming the poppy to be a political symbol.

"It is heartening to see an outbreak of common sense."

Charles Byrne, director general of The Royal British Legion, said: "We welcome the move by Fifa towards lifting their ban on displaying the poppy."

"The poppy is a national symbol that has always represented remembrance and hope for a peaceful future.

"It holds deep meaning for millions of people all over the Commonwealth. The red poppy has no political, religious or commercial meaning. The decision to wear it is a personal choice for both players and spectators."

It's understood that a formal announcement of the rule change is expected to be made in time for the England v Germany match on November 10.

The new proposals will allow the wearing of poppy emblems provided there is no objection from either team or the competition organiser.

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