England v Scotland: Fifa says Poppy ban reports a 'distortion of facts'

By Richard ConwayBBC Radio 5 live sports news correspondent
Poppy row needless argument for FA - Mills
World Cup qualifying Group F: England v Scotland
Venue: Wembley Stadium Date: Friday, 11 November Kick-off: 19:45 GMT
Coverage: Listen on BBC Radio 5 live, BBC Radio Scotland & BBC Sport app; live text commentary on BBC Sport website & app

Fifa says it has not banned the display of poppies by England and Scotland footballers, insisting any such claim is a "distortion of the facts".

Both countries asked to wear black armbands bearing a poppy in Friday's World Cup qualifier on Armistice Day.

Rules forbid "political" statements on shirts and Fifa says it does not have the power to grant such requests.

However, former player Danny Mills says the English FA has "picked the wrong fight" over the issue.

What about the other Home Nations?

Northern Ireland - who host Azerbaijan in Belfast on Friday - will wear plain black armbands, as will Wales when they play Serbia on Saturday.

Fifa says it has reminded the four football associations of the rules - though the Football Association of Wales (FAW) saidexternal-link Fifa "turned down a request for the Wales national team to wear poppies on their shirts or on armbands".

The FAW said it could not risk a financial penalty or point deduction and fans at Cardiff City Stadium will form a poppy mosaic before kick-off.

Northern Ireland's game will see a card motif featuring a poppy displayed in the West Stand along with other Armistice Day tributes.

England Under-21s wore poppies on black armbands during their win over Italy on Thursday night.

What is Fifa's stance?

Football's rulesexternal-link are laid out by the International Football Association Board - which is made up of the four British FAs and Fifa. Any breach of the rules is dealt with by Fifa's disciplinary committee - which Fifa says is an independent body.

It added it could not pre-judge what symbols would constitute a breach of rules.

Fifa said that when contacted by the four FAs about wearing poppy symbols, it "reminded them about law four" - which states players are not allowed to wear "political, religious or personal slogans, statements or images".

The sport's governing says it "reiterated" to the FAs that "only the independent disciplinary committee can decide" if the rules have been broken and what sanction should apply.

"The perception that Fifa 'banned' anything is a distortion of the facts," it added.

Fifa's secretary general, Fatma Samoura, told BBC Sport last week: "We have to apply uniformly and across the 211 member associations the laws of the game.

"Britain is not the only country that has been suffering from the result of war. The only question is why are we doing exceptions for just one country and not the rest of the world?"

FA has picked wrong fight - Mills

Former England defender Mills has questioned the English FA's stance on the poppy issue.

"I think the FA has picked the wrong fight," Mills told BBC Breakfast. "It is likely to get a fine because of this.

"Surely all of the money that has been spent on arguments, lawyers and the fine it may get from Fifa would have been much better being donated to the Royal British Legion. It would have done far more good than this needless argument.

Poppy row needless argument for FA - Mills

"It's commercialised the poppy more than anything else. This is supposed to be a quiet remembrance, 11 o'clock, two-minutes silence remembering those that gave their lives, were injured and gave up so much for our freedom, for our freedom of speech."

Will possible sanctions hurt the teams?

The English FA's revenues are expected to increase by 35% to £420m in 2018 and England are top of their qualifying group with seven points after three games, with Scotland fourth on four points.

Northern Ireland are third in their group, five points behind leaders Germany and three adrift of second-placed Azerbaijan. Wales are third in Group D with five points, two behind Serbia and the Republic of Ireland.

Only the top team qualifies automatically for the World Cup in Russia, with the second-placed side possibly entering a play-off.

English FA chief executive Martin Glenn has said it will contest any fine. "Fifa have much bigger problems they should be concentrating on," he said.

"I'm confident our legal position is right and our moral position is right. Our case is absolutely rock solid."

What are the views of managers and players?

Interim England manager Gareth Southgate described the poppy on Thursday as "part of our identity as a nation".

"We're just pleased that we can honour the sacrifice of those who have gone before us," he added.

Scotland captain Darren Fletcher said: "First and foremost, I think everyone would love to wear the poppy and wants to wear the poppy to show our respect.

"Fifa have their rules and you understand why, but hopefully common sense prevails."

Wales boss Chris Coleman has backed the stance of the FAW.

"Remembrance Day is today [Friday] and we'll show respect in the right manner. Criticism will come but we don't listen to that," said Coleman.

What could happen next?

The first stage in any disciplinary process that might follow Friday's game would be for Fifa's match commissioner at Wembley to include the armbands in the official report.

The case would then go to the disciplinary committee, which would announce its decision a few weeks later. A points deduction is the most serious sanction available but a fine is considered to be more likely.

The British FAs would then have an opportunity to challenge that fine via Fifa's appeals process and a further chance to appeal at the Court of Arbitration for Sport, a course of action that would probably cost more than the fine.

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