Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has backed the decision by the English and Scottish Football Associations to defy FIFA over its poppy ban.
It was announced on Wednesday evening that England and Scotland players will wear black armbands bearing poppies in their World Cup qualifier at Wembley on Nov. 11, Armistice Day.
This is despite FIFA general secretary Fatma Samoura saying there should be no exceptions to a law which states players’ equipment should not carry any commercial, religious, personal or political messages.
Wenger, who was speaking at a news conference ahead of Sunday’s Premier League clash with north London rivals Tottenham, said he found FIFA’s stance “a little bit surprising.”
“I believe that, by wanting to be too politically correct, sometimes you go against tradition,” the Frenchman added. “In this case, that is the part of English culture that I love. They respect tradition and they respect people who have given their life for their country. I think that FIFA should not get involved in that.”
This will please the FA, which said it takes its responsibilities as a founding member of the International Football Association Board, which sets the game’s laws, “extremely seriously” but simply disagrees with FIFA’s interpretation of the poppy as a political symbol.
“The poppy is an important symbol of remembrance and we do not believe it represents a political, religious or commercial message, nor does it relate to any one historical event,” it said.
The Scottish FA has confirmed that its players will also wear armbands next week, as the two teams and Wales did during three November friendlies in 2011, that time with FIFA’s permission. Wales, who host Serbia in Cardiff on Nov. 12, have yet to announce if they too will ignore FIFA.
The home nations had hoped to persuade Samoura, who is coincidentally in London for an IFAB meeting, to repeat the 2011 compromise but the former United Nations diplomat appeared to end any prospect of a settlement when quizzed by the BBC on Wednesday evening.
Referring to IFAB, which is comprised of the four British FAs and FIFA, Samoura said it “represents 211 member associations” and its rules must be applied “uniformly.”
When asked if an exception could be made for an act of remembrance, the Senegalese official said: “Britain is not the only country that has been suffering from the result of war.
“Syria is an example. My own continent has been torn by war for years. Why are we doing exceptions for just one country and not the rest of the world?”
FIFA’s position has already provoked an angry response from the British media, politicians and veterans groups, with Prime Minister Theresa May joining the chorus of condemnation in Westminster on Wednesday.
“I think the stance that has been taken by FIFA is utterly outrageous,” she told MPs during Prime Minister’s Questions. “Our football players want to recognise and respect those who have given their lives for our safety and security. I think it is absolutely right that they should be able to do so.”
And in a direct message to the Swiss-based federation, which has been plagued by corruption allegations, May said: “Before they start telling us what to do, they jolly well ought to sort their own house out.”
In Scotland, St Johnstone boss Tommy Wright told FIFA to get in touch with reality.
“I think FIFA at times should get a reality check in what they do,” he said. “To class a poppyas a political statement when it is remembrance about people who have died and people who have given their lives up for us to have the liberties and freedom we have…
“I think the Prime Minister probably summed it up as well as what a lot of people are thinking. I certainly feel that they should be allowed to wear their poppy on their shirt. I don’t see why that would offend anybody.
“FIFA are basically a law unto themselves at times and I think they have missed a trick really. There probably wouldn’t be a FIFA if it wasn’t for all the sacrifices made down through history and not only in this country as well.
“I will certainly be wearing my poppy and I am pleased that the SFA and the English FA have made that stance.”
Culture Secretary Karen Bradley said on Thursday that she hoped FIFA would “see sense” over the wearing of the poppy armband.
The question now is whether England, Scotland or Wales, if they decide to snub FIFA, will be punished.
When asked if they would be sanctioned, Samoura said: “It is not really my ambition to punish anybody. They just have to recognise they are part of the rules of the game and they should be ready to face any kind of sanctions.
“They know better than me because they made the law.”
She added that it would be up to the match commissioners — FIFA’s representative at internationals — to make a complaint. A decision on punishment, which could be a points deduction, would be made later by a disciplinary panel.
When asked if she had a message for May, Samoura said: “No message to her. I would just ask anybody to refrain from political interference.”
And having worked for the UN in trying circumstances in Chad, Kosovo and Sierra Leone, Samoura will probably not be too alarmed to hear that the Prime Minister has welcomed the British FAs’ act of defiance.
Speaking this morning, a Downing Street spokesman restated May’s stance that the “players of the home nations should be allowed to wear poppies on this occasion”.
“Given her reaction to the question in the House yesterday, I think you can work out that she’s not going to be disappointed by it,” he added.