English win 'poppy ban' spat

2011-11-09 20:34

London - England's soccer players were granted the right to wear poppies on armbands on Wednesday as world governing body FIFA moved to draw a line under a row which had drawn angry protests led by the British government.

A bizarre day in the saga began with British Prime Minister David Cameron condemning the "poppy ban" as "appalling" before members of the British far-right organisation English Defence League mounted a rooftop protest at FIFA's Zurich headquarters.

England's FA had requested the right for players shirts to be embroidered with a red poppy - the country's symbol of remembrance for its war dead - for Saturday's friendly international against Spain at Wembley.

FIFA had refused the request on the grounds that it would "open the door to similar initiatives" across the world.

However, after a day of escalating criticism which included statements of protest from Cameron, Prince William and veterans groups, FIFA agreed the compromise solution of allowing poppies to appear on black armbands.

"The FA can confirm that FIFA has today agreed that the England team will now be permitted to wear a poppy on the black armbands the players will wear during Saturday's match with Spain," the English FA said in a statement.

"While continuing to adhere to the laws of the game, wearing the poppy on the armband does ensure the poppy will be visible throughout the game.

"The FA welcomes FIFA's decision and thanks them for agreeing to this."

It earlier emerged that Britain's heir to the throne, Prince William, who is also the president of the Football Association, had written to FIFA to express his dismay at their refusal to grant the FA's request.

"The Duke has written to FIFA in his capacity as president of the FA to express his dismay at their decision," a St James's Palace spokesman said.

"The Duke's strong view is that the poppy is a universal symbol of remembrance, which has no political, religious or commercial connotations. The Duke has asked FIFA to apply an exception in this special circumstance."

Speaking before lawmakers during Prime Minister's Questions, Cameron earlier proclaimed himself to be "appalled" by FIFA's stance.

Cameron said Britain was "completely baffled and frankly angry" at the decision.

"If teams want to be able to put the poppy on their shirt, as many teams do in our football league, they should be able to at the national level, whether it is the English team or whether it is the Welsh team. I think this is an appalling decision and I hope they will reconsider it," Cameron said.

The two English Defence League protesters, who succeeded in climbing onto the roof at FIFA headquarters, displayed a banner with two poppies on it which read: "English defence League. How dare FIFA disrespect our war dead and wounded. Support out troops."