Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland fans' petition to reverse IFA poppy ruling over football shirt

By Cate McCurry

Hundreds of angry fans have signed a petition calling for the Irish Football Association to reverse a decision not to wear poppies at tonight's Northern Ireland game.

The row continued to grow last night, with some supporters threatening to boycott the crucial World Cup qualifier against Azerbaijan. Amid pressure from football's world governing body Fifa, players will don black armbands to mark Armistice Day but these will not carry the poppy symbol.

>>Poll: Is the poppy a political symbol?<<

Fifa prohibits any political, religious or commercial messages on shirts.

But the move leaves the IFA out of step with other home nations.

Footballers from England and Scotland, who also play tonight at Wembley, will wear armbands featuring a poppy.

Northern Ireland fans reacted angrily to the IFA's decision, with some claiming they might stay at home.

The online petition has attracted well over 1,000 signatures in less than 24 hours.

It states: "The IFA have totally disrespected those who gave their yesterdays so that we could have our todays.

"The poppy is not a political statement, it is a flower symbol of remembrance .

"Northern Ireland, as a part of the United Kingdom must, like the English and Scottish Football associations, have our national team wear the poppy as a compromise on the black armband."

Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill said violating FIFA's ruling "wasn't the right thing" to do.

"I have a lot of influence, none of it exists at Fifa," he said.

"This is a decision made by Fifa, I think the association have done everything in their power to mark the occasion with the utmost respect, we will do that as well.

"We didn't think it was the right thing as an association to violate the rule.

"As a group of players and management team we're happy the decision's been made and we can focus on football."

The controversy grew as local fans discovered Northern Ireland replica shirts emblazoned with the poppy being sold online.

The football shirt  was temporarily withdrawn from sale from official retailer, JD Sports on Wednesday night. Officials blamed a branding blip after the shirt was listed as Nike-manufactured when it is made by Adidas.

The home shirt features a poppy to commemorate those who "gave their lives to their country," according to the advertising blurb.

In a statement to the Belfast Telegraph, the IFA said: "The decision to sell a Northern Ireland shirt with a poppy on it was one made by JD Sports, who are the Irish FA's official retail partner.

"They are also selling Wales and Scotland shirts with a poppy on them.

"When the Irish FA were made aware of the sale, we asked JD Sports if all profits from the sale could go to the British Legion. They agreed to that request.

"There were also inaccuracies in the listings on the JD Sports website around the kit brand."

In a statement, JD Sports said: "In commemoration of Armistice Day and ahead of the international fixtures this weekend we have produced a number of limited edition Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland home football shirts printed with a poppy on the front.

"All profits from the sale of these shirts will go to the Royal British Legion."

In a poll on the Belfast Telegraph website, 49% of people who voted said they believe the Northern Ireland players should wear the symbol during the match, whereas 51% disagreed.

TUV councillor, Stephen Cooper said he was "extremely disappointed" by the IFA's decision describing it as wrong.

Prior to kick-off tonight a minute's silence will be held and names of players connected with the association who died during World War One will be shown on the big screen.

Belfast Telegraph

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