Football: FIFA to lift ban on wearing poppies

By George Gros Director & Football Intermediary VII Law London United Kingdom

Following the furore last year when FIFA, the world governing body of football, banned and fined the UK Football Associations over the use of poppies at football matches, which the British Prime Minister, Theresa May, described as “utterly outrageous”, FIFA is set to lift the ban.

England and Scotland players wore the poppy on black arm bands during their World Cup qualifier at Wembley Stadium last November, and Wales and Northern Ireland displayed the poppy in their stadiums.

Under the current rules, FIFA regards the poppy as a “political symbol”.

Under the new rules, which are expected to be approved in early October by IFAB (the International Football Association Board), the guardian of the ‘Laws of the Game’, the ban is expected to be lifted in time for the November remembrance period. During this time, England are scheduled to play Germany in a ‘friendly’ at Wembley Stadium and the German Football Association is not expected to object to the England team wearing poppies on either armbands or their shirts.

If the ban on wearing poppies is, in fact, lifted, it is also expected that the fines imposed last year will not now be enforced by FIFA. It appears that the UK Football Authorities were ready to go to Court to overturn them!

Of course, as with any rules and regulations, it is always a question of interpretation of them.

Under the new rules, as to what constitutes a ‘political symbol’, is being more narrowly defined as follows:

  • The commemoration of any living or dead person;
  • Political parties or groups;
  • Any local or national government;
  • Discriminatory organisations;
  • Any group whose aims/actions would offend a notable number of people; and
  • Any specific political act/event.

In the final analysis, it will be up to the football competition organisers, such as FIFA and UEFA, to decide whether a particular symbol is ‘political’ or not.

Let us hope that good sense will prevail and cultural tradition will now be respected!

George Gros may be contacted by e-mail at ‘ggros@viilaw.com’