Wednesday, November 02, 2016
The Fifa official enforcing a ban on England and Scotland players wearing poppies during an Armistice Day football match is a Senegalese bureaucrat brought in to make the scandal-hit organisation look more transparent.
Fifa Secretary General Fatma Samoura will attend a meeting at Wembley this week over the body's insistence that poppies designed to commemorate the fallen are a 'political symbol' and are thus not allowed.
Despite outrage over the ban, the two teams fear they could face hefty fines or even point deductions in their bids to reach the World Cup if they flout the governing body's rules and commemorate the fallen.
Prime Minister Theresa May today condemned Fifa over the 'utterly outrageous' ban, telling the scandal-hit body to get its own house in order before telling others what to do.
FIFA Secretary General Fatma Samoura is set to attend a crunch meeting over whether England and Scotland players can wear poppies during an Armistice Day football match
Samoura was brought in by new Fifa president Gianni Infantino despite question marks over whether she had the experience for the job
Samoura has issued Fifa's only response to growing fury in Britain over the decree, writing a letter in which she 'drew attention to law four', which states that 'political or religious messages' are banned from team shirts.
Samoura sparked anger among some in Fifa when she was parachuted into the £1million-a-year role by the organisation's new president Gianni Infantino in May.
She was handed the Secretary General position despite having no real experience in handling sport, having previously worked in a humanitarian role at the UN.
The 54-year-old's appointment came as world football's governing body desperately tried to rescue its reputation, after a number of former officials were arrested on corruption charges and former president Sepp Blatter was placed under criminal investigation.
There was also widespread anger at the organisation for awarding the 2022 World Cup to Qatar amid allegations of bribery.
Appointing Samoura to the role, Infantino insisted she understood 'transparency and accountability' and praised her 'experience and vision'. But others wondered if, having never worked in football before, she was being set up to fail.
England players were previously allowed to wear poppies on armbands and on their training tops due to Fifa rules over 'political symbols'
The English and Scottish FAs now want to know whether they can do the same again
Samoura, who has a degree in English and Spanish from the University of Lyon, started working for the UN's Food Programme in 1995. She was later sent around the world to work for the organisation before becoming a humanitarian administrator in Nigeria.
Five months after taking her role at Fifa and promising a 'fresh approach', she will now have to take a view on whether it should impose its poppy ban on England, Scotland and Wales, who also to wear armbands during their game against Serbia in Cardiff on November 12.
Samoura has previously worked in administrative roles for the UN
The English and Scottish FAs are desperate to find out what sanction they can expect if they flout the ban to allow players and fans to remember those killed in conflict.
Responding to the row at Prime Minister's Questions today, Theresa May tore into football's governing body.
She said: 'I think the stance that has been taken by Fifa is utterly outrageous.
'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.'
She said it was a matter for the English and Scottish Football Associations, but there was a 'clear message' from the House of Commons that 'we want our players to be able to wear those poppies'.
And in a direct message to world football's governing body, which has been plagued by corruption allegations, she said: 'Before they start telling us what to do, they jolly well ought to sort their own house out.'
The campaign to overturn the ban has been backed by almost 200,000 people in a petition on the change.org which urges Fifa to change its mind.
In Parliament today, PM Theresa May branded the poppy ban 'utterly outrageous'
Former RAF pilot and prisoner of war John Nichol, who set up the petition, said: 'The poppy is not a political statement at all. It could not be further from a political statement.
'It is a statement of remembrance and an acknowledgement of sacrifice from the First World War right through to the sacrifices of our young men and women today.'
Mr Nichol said many service personnel were football fans, and the match was an opportunity for the country to show 'how much we as a society care about the work these heroes do'.
He added: 'No-one should ever be banned from wearing a poppy and it brings shame on Fifa that they continue to propagate this misunderstanding of our heritage.'
Damian Collins, chairman of the Commons Sports Committee, said the ban was insulting to British fans.
Fans are furious that the ban will prevent the players from remembering the war dead
He told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: 'I hope common sense prevails. Fifa has strict rules banning political, religious or commercial symbols from shirts. I think it is insulting to people in this country to say a poppy is one of those sort of symbols.
'Someone has shared with me on social media an Ireland football shirt that has a special embroidery on marking the centenary of the Easter Rising.
'Fifa allow that, so I think people will find it astonishing that the poppy's not allowed.'
The English FA is said to remain optimistic that a compromise can be reached which would allow players to wear poppies on armbands for the World Cup qualifier.
However, Scottish FA chief executive Stewart Regan has told the BBC that Fifa has already rejected the armband compromise and was 'sticking to the letter of the law'.