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British football teams fined for poppy war tribute

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Poppy armbands worn by England’s Kyle Walker (right) and Scotland’s Leigh Griffiths at Wembley on November 11, 2016 © AFP / Adrian Dennis

Zurich, Switzerland, Dec 19 – FIFA fined England 45,000 Swiss francs ($43,850, 42,000 euros) on Monday for wearing a poppy tribute to British war dead during their November 11 World Cup qualifier against Scotland.

Scotland were fined 20,000 Swiss francs, while Wales and Northern Ireland were given 20,000 and 15,000 Swiss franc fines respectively for making their own tributes.

FIFA rules ban “political” symbols on shirts during official games, but the British nations denied they had breached the ban.

England’s Football Association said it would appeal against the fine.

“We note the decision by the FIFA disciplinary committee, which we intend to appeal,” an FA spokesperson said.

“As a first step, we have written today to FIFA requesting the grounds for the decision.”

England’s players and manager Gareth Southgate and Scotland’s players wore black armbands bearing red poppy motifs at the Wembley game, which England won 3-0.

The qualifier was staged on Armistice Day, when Britain traditionally pays tribute to the country’s war dead.

FIFA disciplinary committee chairman Claudio Sulser stated it was not their “intention to judge or question specific commemorations as we fully respect the significance of such moments in the respective countries, each one of them with its own history and background”.

England captain Wayne Rooney wears a poppy armband to commemorate Armistice Day in a World Cup qualifier against Scotland at Wembley on November 11, 2016 © AFP/File / Adrian DENNIS

But in a statement he explained they had issued the fines as “rules need to be applied in a neutral and fair manner across FIFA’s 211 member associations”.

He added: “The display, among others, of any political or religious symbol is strictly prohibited. In the stadium and on the pitch, there is only room for sport, nothing else.”

FIFA rules ban “political, religious or personal slogans, statements or images” on player kits.

However, British lawmaker Damian Collins, chairman of the all-party Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, told AFP he felt FIFA hadn’t applied their rules properly.

“FIFA got themselves into a bad place and have applied their rules in the wrong way,” said the 42-year-old, also a founding member of the FIFA reform lobby group FIFA Now.

“They have shown a total lack of sensitivity and the FA are right to appeal and to refuse to pay the fine.”

– ‘Disappointed’ –

Wales and Northern Ireland opted against allowing their players to wear black armbands with poppy symbols.

Instead, Wales laid a wreath beside the pitch and fans held up a poppy mosaic prior to their 1-1 World Cup qualifying draw with Serbia in Cardiff.

In Belfast, Northern Ireland held a minute’s silence, laid wreaths and displayed a poppy mosaic ahead of their 4-0 win over Azerbaijan.

Supporters form a poppy mosaic ahead of the World Cup 2018 qualification match between Wales and Serbia in Cardiff on November 12, 2016 © AFP / Anthony Devlin

The Scottish Football Association said it was “disappointed” by FIFA’s decision and would “await the written reasons from the committee before considering the appropriate next steps”.

The Irish Football Association, responsible for Northern Ireland, said it would seek legal advice on the matter.

“The Irish FA is disappointed that the FIFA disciplinary committee has reprimanded the association and issued a fine,” the IFA said in a statement.

“The Irish FA will examine the full written submission when it is released and will take further legal advice before deciding on a future course of action.”

The Football Association of Wales did not immediately respond to a request for comment from AFP.

British Prime Minister Theresa May has branded FIFA’s stance “outrageous”.

The Republic of Ireland, meanwhile, were fined 5,000 Swiss francs after their players wore symbols commemorating the Easter Rising on their shirts during a March friendly against Switzerland.

The Easter Rising, which took place in April 1916, was an Irish rebellion against British rule.

The Football Association of Ireland is not expected to contest the fine.

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