Leading article

FIFA's poppy guidelines are fair

FIFA, international soccer's governing body, has faced some outspoken criticism after it refused permission for the English and Scottish sides to display a poppy on their jerseys for their World Cup qualifier this Saturday.

The game is to be staged on the UK's Remembrance Day, November 11, and there had been an official proposal that the symbol would feature on the kits worn by all the players involved in the Wembley stadium fixture.

When FIFA announced its decision, the British prime minister Theresa May led the chorus of outrage and one of her fellow Conservative MPs specifically suggested that double standards were in place over a related issue involving the Republic of Ireland team and the centenary of the 1916 Easter Rising earlier this year.

However, despite indications that the English and Scottish associations may defy the stipulation, the long established FIFA rules which insist that political messages cannot be carried on what is described as 'players' equipment' can be seen to be entirely reasonable.

The tradition of wearing a poppy is an honourable one, as long as the gesture is voluntary, but it is designed to recognise the commitment and sacrifices of the British military in conflicts down the years which include its contentious role in Ireland.

If it was deemed acceptable to formally highlight the role of soldiers during a World Cup game in London, it should be obvious that similar initiatives would almost certainly be demanded in some extremely difficult regions throughout FIFA's jurisdiction – including present and recent war zones.

It follows the Football Association of Ireland needed to be absolutely certain that it was entitled to place a 1916 crest on shirts used for a friendly at the Aviva stadium in Dublin last March.

FIFA has now instigated disciplinary proceedings against the FAI over the matter and, if the latter body is found to be in breach of the protocols, a sanction will be justified and a fine can be expected to follow.

The Belfast-based Irish Football Association has taken a more pragmatic approach and asked FIFA for guidance before it decides how to mark Remembrance Day during the match against Azerbaijan at Windsor Park this Saturday.

There can often be enormous sensitivities at work in top level sport, as witnessed when the Derry-born Republic of Ireland international, James McClean, exercised his absolute right not to wear a poppy when representing his club, West Bromwich Albion, and was vilified by some DUP figures.

The FIFA guidelines reflect a common sense approach to a complex set of circumstances and they deserve to be respected across the board.

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