FIFA, and not the IFA, must take blame over poppy row

There's been a lot of focus and comment on the decision by the Irish Football Association not to display a poppy on either the players' shirts or the black armbands that are to be worn during tonight's match against Azerbaijan.

Gary McAllister of the Amalgamation of Northern Ireland Supporters' Clubs
Gary McAllister of the Amalgamation of Northern Ireland Supporters' Clubs
Gary McAllister of the Amalgamation of Northern Ireland Supporters' Clubs

The strength of feeling expressed by many supporters clearly demonstrates that the issue of remembrance is an emotive one since so many will have served in the Armed Forces or will have family members who gave service.

My great grandfather, Malcolmson Williamson served at Gallipoli and my late father served in Cyprus and Jordan with the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers. I’m proud of my family’s military history.

Pretty much all of the anger we’ve seen has been directed at the IFA, however I feel that the focus should instead be placed on FIFA. The governing body of world football has been asked on numerous occasions to clarify whether the poppy would breach Article 4 of its regulations in relation to playing equipment and has failed to answer definitively. For me, their lack of clarity is shameful since it is this which has caused offence at the notion that the poppy might be considered by FIFA to be either political or commercial.

It is neither.

As a result, the IFA has stopped short of putting a poppy on the shirt or armbands, however it has done just about everything else to mark Armistice. A minute’s silence before kick-off, black armbands, a wreath laying, a bucket collection by the Royal British Legion and a huge card display in the West Stand featuring a poppy image will all take place. The IFA are right to observe Armistice and more specifically to commemorate the loss of four of our players who made the ultimate sacrifice in the First World War.

My preference would have been to see a poppy displayed on the shirt or on the training tops worn during the anthems. I understand and accept the IFA’s reasoning in not risking a fine or points loss.

I’m neither happy nor even content about it, however I accept their argument as a logical one. Others will of course disagree, and they’re entitled to their opinion since we are, after all, remembering those who gave their lives so that we may express our views freely.

My reason for not wanting to risk a financial penalty is simple.

Personally, I wouldn’t pay one penny to FIFA by way of a fine since it is they who have created this whole mess through their failure to give a straight answer in relation to where the Home Nations stand on the matter.

This is where the IFA, along with their counterparts from England, Scotland and Wales, must press FIFA on the matter so that we avoid the sort of war of words we have seen this week which is so detrimental to the interests of Northern Ireland football.

There can be no repeat of this episode at any point in the future.

The four UK football associations must bring this issue to a head at the International Football Association Board in March. The IFAB is the body which makes the Laws of the Game and is made up by representatives from the IFA, the Scottish, Welsh and English FA’s and FIFA.

FIFA has a new president in Gianni Infantino, there is no better time and opportunity for us to have this issue addressed so that we all know exactly where we stand and move forward together.

Gary McAllister is chairman of the Amalgamation of Official Northern Ireland Supporters’ Clubs