It’s just over a week until Scotland meet England in a competitive fixture for the first time since the heartbreak of the Euro 2000 play-offs. But instead of football, the main focus leading into the fixture has been whether or not the sides should be allowed to wear a poppy, writes Craig Anderson.
The purpose of this article is not to moralise about the rights and wrongs of the current poppy culture – you’ll find plenty of pieces about that elsewhere. Instead, I want to focus purely on the SFA’s decision to defy FIFA’s ruling.
Whether or not you agree with FIFA’s blanket ban on political and personal statements on strips, it is a decision which was made for valid reasons. They oversee hundreds of international matches each year, and not all of them are between nations with such good diplomatic relations as Scotland and England. You only have to go back a couple of years to see the trouble that a nationalistic symbol caused in the Serbia v Albania match in Euro 2016 qualifying. They clearly can’t allow a free-for-all, and making decisions on a case-by-case basis would leave them open to accusations of bias. There is clearly no risk of poppies causing any sort of incident in an England v Scotland fixture, but allowing it once could set a dangerous precedent for future matches.
The SFA might disagree with this decision, but it is hugely irresponsible of them to decide to circumvent this ruling. FIFA have made their position clear, and that decision should be accepted. The SFA’s only job is to run football in Scotland, and the success of the national football teams should be their main priority. It therefore seems absurd that they would knowingly make a decision which could be detrimental to their (already slim) chances of qualifying for the World Cup. There are plenty of other places for people to pay respect to the victims of war.
The SFA have their own rules about political statements, but they are now essentially giving clubs carte blanche to ignore these. The first time a club is called up to an SFA hearing, they will cite this very case as a precedent. After all, it would appear that the SFA think rules are there to be broken.
I have said in the past that I think Stewart Regan sometimes get a bit of undue flak. He may have made some foolish decisions and statements during the Rangers saga, but on the whole he has made some positive changes in his time at the SFA. He has overseen the introduction of performance schools and was a driving force behind the pyramid system, both of which have the potential to improve Scottish football well into the future. However, I find it impossible to defend his stance in this situation. If FIFA punish Scotland clearly that’s bad for our national team, but if they don’t then the SFA will only have won a pyrrhic victory given the potential impact within the domestic game.
Sadly, I don’t think there is any chance of the SFA (or the English FA) backtracking on this issue. The best we can hope for is that FIFA turn a blind eye, and that Scottish clubs have more sense than their governing body when it comes to following the rules. If we end up being deducted points in our qualifying group, then Regan’s position should be untenable, along with anyone else who signed off on this ludicrous decision.
Written by Craig Anderson (@craig_killie)