FAI finds itself dragged into unseemly poppy row
FAI must have known it was breaking rules despite causing little or no offence
There is more than a hint of buffoonery about the English FA asking Fifa to allow them to be an exception to a rule they themselves asked the game’s world governing body to adopt a couple of years ago. But rather like a child who seeks to drag others into things when they do not get their own way they, along with the politicians and members of the media who are so hung up on the issue, they might manage to take some consolation from the fact that they have at least landed the FAI in some trouble now too.
The timing of Ireland’s friendly against Switzerland on Good Friday made it the obvious occasion on which to join in with the commemorations here of the Easter Rising. The association had, it seemed, done rather well with Belfast Celtic goalkeeper turned Irish Volunteer Oscar Traynor featuring prominently in the programme, the teams being led out by a colour party from the 7th Infantry Brigade and students from a secondary school in Ballymun reciting the Proclamation before the kick-off. Some 250 relatives of participants in the Rising were also invited to the game with a similar number attending the game, four days later, against Slovakia.
This was all flagged, as it happens, in considerable detail, by the FAI on its official website on March 23rd, two days before the Switzerland match. Somewhat curiously, no mention at all is made there of the commemorative design on the shirts to be worn by the players during the game itself.
In the circumstances, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that the association probably knew it was breaking the rules and was simply keeping its head down. If so, the association benefited from the fact that the issue was barely commented upon at the time with far more attention being paid to the fact that fans could buy drink inside the ground on a day that the pubs were closed. Nevertheless, it is hard to imagine that Fifa would not, at some level, have become aware of the breach.
Its inaction at the time may well have been part of some informal desire to simply let something that nobody had taken issue with go. Whether or not that is actually the case, it is clear that unless they gave their permission, which they certainly appear not to have done, they have little option now but to take action having been alerted to the issue by journalists following up the comments of, amongst others, Damian Collins MP. That it comes at a time when a significant proportion of both the political and media establishment in England appear to have worked themselves up into a state of fervent, occasionally frightening and often utterly irrational nationalism is beside the point.
Inevitably there will be innocent victims of this, some of whom are likely to pay a far greater price than the FAI, but the association is likely to have to simply stump up whatever fine is imposed if and when the “disciplinary proceedings” opened against it by Fifa on Friday develops into a formal charge.
In terms of the potential to cause offence this is, of course, not even in the same league as the association’s chief executive John Delaney choosing to repeatedly sing in public a song about an IRA hunger striker who has been linked via the weapons used, to one of the most heinous crimes of the entire Troubles.
Still, the fact is that the association would, in retrospect, have been wise to avoid any use of symbols on the players’ shirts when they were already marking the occasion pretty extensively. That they are now set to be punished from something that may have caused little or no offence to anyone is sort of beside the point.
The cost of all this is, in any case, likely to be small with Fifa imposing fines on a number of associations this week of between roughly €15,000 and €45,000 for offences ranging from “religious manifestations” to homophobic chants. And anything in that sort of range would leave the FAI’s account with the world governing body still very healthily in the black given the €5 million they were surreptitiously paid when Sepp Blatter sought to buy a quiet life with the federation’s money in the wake the Thierry Henry handball incident.
None of which is likely to help the English who, despite successfully dragging the FAI into this mess of theirs, face rather higher stakes given that they face Scotland in a competitive match, there is an element of open defiance and the sanctions involved could, notionally at least, include a points deduction. More likely, they too will get a fine and the real cost of all of this might be measured in terms of a prestige lost abroad rather than mere pounds and pence.
There is a strong sense, though, that is a commodity they are pretty free and easy with these days in England.