London (AFP) – Northern Ireland’s players will not wear commemorative poppies in their World Cup qualifier against Azerbaijan on Friday, the Irish Football Association said.
The football associations of England and Scotland, who meet at Wembley the same day, have decided to defy a ban by world governing body FIFA on political, commercial or religious symbols.
But while their players will wear black armbands with poppies, the threat of sanctions by FIFA means Northern Ireland’s players will wear plain black armbands for their Armistice Day game in Belfast.
People in the United Kingdom wear poppies to remember their war dead and the English and Scottish FAs have argued it should not be seen as a political symbol.
“We asked FIFA if permission could be granted for the Northern Ireland team to wear a poppy on the shirt or on an armband,” IFA chief executive Patrick Nelson said in a statement on Tuesday.
“FIFA advised that they could give no guarantee that there would not be disciplinary proceedings if the Northern Ireland team was to wear a symbol of remembrance on the playing shirt.”
Nelson said the IFA had asked rule-making body the International FA Board, of which it is a member, to provide “clarification” on the matter at its next annual general meeting in London in March.
The IFA revealed plans for alternative forms of commemoration prior to Friday’s game, including a minute’s silence.
Earlier, Tottenham Hotspur striker Harry Kane said England’s players were pleased they would be wearing commemorative poppies in their World Cup qualifier against Scotland.
“As long as we’re wearing the poppy, we’re happy,” Kane told a press conference at the St George’s Park football centre in Burton-on-Trent, central England.
“We all wanted to wear it. Being on the top or the sleeve, it doesn’t matter too much. As long as we’re wearing it, it’s a big positive.”
– Remembrance visit –
Premier League teams have taken to wearing jerseys with poppy emblems for fixtures prior to Armistice Day in recent years.
England’s interim manager Gareth Southgate and Scotland captain Darren Fletcher have backed the decision to wear poppies despite FIFA’s stance.
“First and foremost, I think everyone would love to wear the poppy and wants to wear the poppy to show our respect,” Fletcher said on Monday.
“FIFA have their rules and you understand why, but hopefully common sense prevails.”
England’s game against Scotland and Northern Ireland’s meeting with Azerbaijan fall on November 11, which was the date the Armistice was signed to end World War I in 1918.
British Prime Minister Theresa May has described FIFA’s stance on the matter as “utterly outrageous” and a petition against the poppy ban has been signed by over 315,000 people.
Southgate and England captain Wayne Rooney were among a small group who made a remembrance visit to a cemetery in Burton-on-Trent on Tuesday.
Along with goalkeeper Joe Hart and Daniel Sturridge, they each laid poppy wreathes bearing the message “Football Remembers”.
Southgate was also pictured placing a flower on a war grave.
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