Armbands rarely worn in big games


ANALYSIS:It is not the first time that an Irish team will have taken to the field wearing black armbands

MEMBERS OF the Irish football team will next month wear black armbands to remember the victims of the attack by the UVF on a bar in Loughinisland, Co Down, where a crowd of people watched the Republic of Ireland’s World Cup game against Italy at Giants Stadium in New York. Six men were killed.

Ireland’s game at Euro 2012 against Italy in Poznan on June 18th takes place on the 18th anniversary of the murders. The Football Association of Ireland has moved to mark the occasion by obtaining permission for the armbands from Uefa, the governing body of European football.

“What happened in Loughinisland in 1994 was an awful tragedy and deeply moving for all football fans,” said FAI chief executive John Delaney yesterday.

“I would like to thank Uefa for assisting us in commemorating this atrocity and take the opportunity to remember all those who lost their lives in the Troubles.”

There was some criticism at the time that the Irish team that played Mexico in Orlando six days after the killings did not wear armbands, and surprise yesterday that they have chosen to do this now – although it seems the coincidence of the opposition and the date has nudged the FAI into action.

“It is going to be very, very emotional, there is no doubt about that,” Moira Casement, whose uncle was killed in the Heights Bar that night, told UTV.

“But we have tried to move on and you can only go so far. This is going to be like déjà vu – the match, the same teams . . . It is very emotional.”

Armbands are rarely worn by teams during games.

The organisations that run international football and its major tournaments, Fifa and Uefa, are usually reluctant to allow teams to wear any symbols that might be deemed even remotely political, and associations are often reluctant to agree that their teams wear them for fear of causing controversy by refusing on another occasion.

Under article 18 of Uefa’s tournament regulations, every aspect of a team’s apparel has to be approved and permission for any subsequent variation from the submitted design, including the wearing of armbands, has to be obtained.

The approach is influenced by a decision of Fifa’s international board that: “The basic compulsory equipment (as stipulated in the Laws of the Game) must not have any political, religious or personal statements”.

Fifa and Uefa are generally anxious to avoid any controversy or division for a mixture of political and commercial reasons and requests are essentially assessed on the basis of their potential to offend or set potentially problematic precedents.

It is not the first time that an Irish team will have taken to the field wearing black armbands, however, with the most famous occasion probably the one in Reykjavik on September 6th, 1997, when a side managed by Mick McCarthy and captained by Andy Townsend, both of whom were said to have had a major hand in the decision, wore armbands to mark the death of Princess Diana.

At the time McCarthy said Princess Diana “wasn’t just a British celebrity – she belonged to the world. I think it is fitting that we should now join in the respect being paid to her by people all over the world.”