Fifa shows ‘common sense at last’ in poppy ban row

A display at Windsor Park for the Northern Ireland match against Azerbaijan in November last year
A display at Windsor Park for the Northern Ireland match against Azerbaijan in November last year
  • Governing body backs down in row with home nations

The decision by football’s governing body, Fifa, to back down in its row with the home nations over the wearing of the poppy has been welcomed by DUP MP and Northern Ireland fan Gregory Campbell.

Mr Campbell said that while Fifa should never have implemented a ban on the wearing of the poppy by players in international matches in the first place, he was pleased that “common sense has prevailed”.

Northern Ireland players line up before last November's match against Azerbaijan at the National Stadium at Windsor Park

Northern Ireland players line up before last November's match against Azerbaijan at the National Stadium at Windsor Park

England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales were all fined by Fifa for ignoring warnings not to commemorate Armistice Day during their World Cup qualifiers last November.

Fifa’s stance – based on a strict interpretation of its laws against the use of personal, political or religious slogans or symbols – sparked widespread condemnation in Britain, with Prime Minister Theresa May calling it “utterly outrageous” in Parliament.

But now, 10 months after a Fifa disciplinary panel dished out those fines, football’s world governing body has sent its member associations new guidance on law four, the section of the game’s rule book on what players can wear.

What this means in practice, is that Northern Ireland, or any other team that wants to wear poppies on their shirts to mark Armistice Day, can do so, providing they get their opponents’ permission and inform the organisers of the match.

It’s a sensible move and it is one of these things that shouldn’t have happened in the first instance. Common sense shuld have prevailed at the outset.

Gregory Campbell, MP

The IFA, meanwhile, say they are withholding comment until a proposed rule change is “ratified”.

An IFA spokesperson said: “The Irish Football Association placed clarification of the law 4.5 (regarding symbols on playing shirts) on the agenda for the annual general meeting of the International Football Association Board (IFAB) which was held in March. An amendment to this law is to go before IFAB in October. The association will not be making any further comment until the proposed changes to the game’s laws are ratified.”

Mr Campbell, East Londonderry MP, said: “It’s a sensible move and it is one of these things that shouldn’t have happened in the first instance. Common sense shuld have prevailed at the outset.

“The poppy is not a divisive symbol, it is a symbol that brings people together. It is a good move.”

Mr Campbell encouraged Fifa to now get involved in the poppy campaign.

He said: “During the wars, many clubs had to stop playing because so many of their players were away at the front lines, during the first and second world wars.

“There may be an opportunity for Fifa to show that they now are sufficiently well informed to not only refrain from objecting but to actively participate themselves.”