A former Ulster rugby star believes it was a “mistake” not to include the poppy emblem on players’ kits this year, and hopes that will spark a rethink.
Trevor Ringland was speaking as Ulster Rugby reacted to criticism of its decision not to include the symbol on the squad’s shirts during a match on Remembrance Sunday.
Ulster Rugby on Monday pointed to a number of Remembrance events with which it is involved, but did not directly address the question of whether it may include poppies on future kits in its statement.
Following the match against Newport Gwent Dragons (during which the Welsh squad took to the field in poppy-emblazoned kits), Mr Ringland said that the decision not to take to the field wearing poppies was “a mistake”.
Mr Ringland, an ex-winger who estimates that he played around 50 times with Ulster, added: “Rugby always tries to play a constructive role in Ulster, in Northern Ireland, on this island, and between these islands ... [it] has kept relationships going when others were destroying them.
“So I think they’ll reflect on the comments that have been made about this weekend, and I hope that next year they change it.”
He added: “I hope that next year players that want to wear the poppy will wear it, and those that don’t will respect that decision too.”
Mr Ringland – lawyer and member of the NI Conservatives – told the News Letter that wearing a poppy is not an endorsement of any particular conflict, but simply a way of remembering the soldiers who fought in it, and that “I think it’s time to start relaxing about these things”.
A spokesman for Ulster Rugby said that no players had requested the wearing of a poppy.
Asked if they would have been allowed to, the spokesman responded that it would have been “considered”.
He said it is highly unusual for Ulster to play any games during Remembrance week and that this was the first such example in recent memory, adding that the issue is not likely to arise next year.
A number of social media users also criticised the decision not to display the poppy, including @AlanSWilson93 who tweeted: “Disappointed that @UlsterRugby are not wearing poppies on their shirts. Never forget the fallen. We will remember them.”
Ulster Rugby said in a statement: “Ulster Rugby players and supporters respectfully observed a minute’s silence prior to the fixture against Newport Gwent Dragons on Sunday.”
It added that a memorial service is due to be held in the stadium on Tuesday, and added: “No other Guinness PRO12 club, with the exception of Newport Gwent Dragons and Cardiff Blues, wore a poppy on their jerseys this weekend.”
The Royal British Legion, meanwhile, reiterated its view the wearing of poppies is a voluntary matter .
It said: “We take the view that the poppy represents sacrifices made in the defence of freedom; and so the decision to wear it must be a matter of personal choice. If the poppy became compulsory it would lose its meaning and significance.
“We are thankful for every poppy worn, but we never insist upon this or claim a natural right.
“To do otherwise would not only be contrary to the spirit of Remembrance and all that the poppy stands for.”