This article titled “Fifa tells referee to call off England game if players wear poppies” was written by Jamie Jackson, for The Guardian on Tuesday 8th November 2011 17.47 UTC
England will not be able to defy Fifa’s ban on wearing poppies on their shirts for Saturday’s friendly against Spain at Wembley, as the referee is under orders from the governing body to call off the match if the emblems are present on their kit.
Fifa has turned down two requests from the FA to wear poppies, despite government support from the sports minister, Hugh Robertson, saying that allowing them to do so would “jeopardise the neutrality of football”. Football’s world governing body decrees that shirts should not carry political or religious messages.
Yet the FA is prepared to go as far as it can to mark Remembrance Day with measures that include poppies on the kit players will wear during the national anthem and black armbands during the match, a poppy possibly being on permanent display on the Wembley scoreboard, and a wreath being laid by the match mascots, as well as a minute’s silence before kick-off.
In its rejection letter Fifa said: “We regret to inform you that accepting such initiatives would open the door to similar initiatives from all over the world, jeopardising the neutrality of football. Therefore, we confirm herewith that the suggested embroidery on the match shirt cannot be authorised.
“There are a variety of options where the FA can continue supporting the cause of Remembrance. One of them already was approved by Fifa, the period of silence.”
Fifa’s stance was met with widespread disapproval, with the England midfielder Jack Wilshere tweeting: “My Great Granddad fought for this country in WW2 and I’m sure a lot of peoples grandparents did so #WearThePoppy.” Earlier the Arsenal midfielder wrote: “England team should wear poppies on saturday. Its the nations tradition and it would be disrespectful not to.”
Rio Ferdinand, whose brother Anton is at the centre of a racism investigation involving the England captain, John Terry, also wrote on Twitter: “Powers that be do make stands on certain issues I see,” before adding the hashtags #selective #onlysaying.
Speaking just before Fifa’s final response became public, Robertson had suggested he would back the FA and FAW – Wales also play a friendly on Saturday, against Norway – if they chose to put poppies on their shirts even if his plea proved unsuccessful.
“Once we have a decision from them, clearly we can plan what to do next,” said Robertson. “That will primarily be a matter for the FA, if they wish to take this further they will have my full support. I can’t understand Fifa’s position at all.”
The sports minister’s letter pointed out that while England wanted to respect the rules “the British public feel very strongly about this issue which is seen as an act of national remembrance to commemorate those who gave their lives in the service of their country. It is not religious or political in any way. Wearing a poppy is a display of national pride, just like wearing your country’s football shirt.”
Jim Boyce, the Fifa vice-president who is Northern Irish, also supported the move. He said: “Personally I think there has to be a bit of common sense used when requests like this come in. Armistice Day is a very important day in the FA calendar, as it is with other associations, and I don’t think it would offend anybody to have a poppy on the shirts.
“I am not involved in the decision and I do understand there have to be rules. But as this is a special request from a member of Fifa and is not of a political nature I believe that common sense should prevail and that it should be looked at in a different light.”
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010