KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTS: The Football Association will instruct England players to snub FIFA and wear black armbands bearing poppies in next Friday’s Armistice Day World Cup qualifier against Scotland at Wembley.
Fatma Samoura, the secretary-general of the world federation who is in London for a law-makers’ meeting, has said that no exception is possible, as was allowed for England’s friendly against Spain in November 11.
The laws of the game state that players’ equipment should not carry any commercial, political or religious messages. FIFA sources have said that, after years of rule-bending within the body, it dare not be seen overturned its own rules.
This is despite an outburst from Prime Minister Theresa May that the ruling was “utterly outrageous” and FIFA should concentrate on “putting its own house in order.”
The delicacy of the timing for FIFA was underlined by publication of the latest round of disciplinary punishments for crowd misbehaviour. Among the sanctions was a fine of CHF 45,000 (£37,000) for a number of ‘religious manifestations’ during a match.
An explanatory statement from Football Association said: “We fully respect the laws of the game and take our founding role on the International Football Association Board extremely seriously.
“The poppy is an important symbol of remembrance and we do not believe it represents a political, religious or commercial message, nor does it relate to any one historical event.
“In keeping with the position agreed with FIFA back in 2011 and in what we believe is in accordance with law 4, para 4, the FA intend to pay appropriate tribute to those who have made the ultimate sacrifice by having the England team wear black armbands bearing poppies in our fixture on Armistice Day.”
Not only England but also Scotland and Wales players wore poppies on armbands in three November friendlies in 2011 as part of a compromise granted by FIFA.
The FA asked FIFA for a similar ruling this year but received a short written reply from Samoura that “drew attention” to law 4, paragraph 4 – the section that contains the ban on commercial, political or religious messages.
Samoura has pointed out that to grant one exception in this case would open the door to every other nation to demand similar treatment over gestures of support for their own favoured causes.
She said: “The laws must be applied uniformly and across the 211 member associations. You could make many exceptions. Britain is not the only country that has been suffering from the result of war.
“Syria is an example. My own [African] continent has been torn by war for years. Why are we doing exceptions for just one country and not the rest of the world?”
FA chairman Greg Clarke, explaining the body’s stance, said: “We are commemorating millions of people who gave their lives in wars over the last hundred years and they deserve that. The people who lost relatives deserve that. That’s our plan.
“We’ll be wearing poppies at Wembley. I mean, we’d rather come to an agreement with FIFA, so that they’re happy with that, but it’s inconceivable that the FA won’t be sanctioning the wearing of poppies at Wembley.”
The process would be that wearing of poppy-armbands would be referred by the match commissioners to FIFA’s disciplinary committee. Punishments range from a reprimand to a fine to a points deduction.