SFA chief Stewart Regan defies Fifa over Wembley Poppy ban

Scottish FA Chief Executive'  Stewart Regan at the official opening of Oriam, Scotland's sports performance centre, at Heriot-Watt University. Picture: SNS
Scottish FA Chief Executive' Stewart Regan at the official opening of Oriam, Scotland's sports performance centre, at Heriot-Watt University. Picture: SNS
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Scottish Football Association chief executive Stewart Regan remained defiant on the poppy issue yesterday as it emerged Fifa had opened disciplinary proceedings against the Football Association of Ireland over an Easter Rising symbol on the Republic’s shirts in a March friendly.

The Irish jerseys bore a symbol to mark the 100th anniversary of the uprising during a match against Switzerland on 25 March.

The development followed the Football Association and SFA’s decision to press ahead with plans to commemorate Armistice Day by allowing players to wear black armbands embroidered with a poppy for the World Cup qualifier between England and Scotland at Wembley on 11 November, Armistice Day.

Fifa has stated that the poppy symbol would breach its rules regarding political, religious or commercial messages being carried on players’ equipment. A statement from Fifa in relation to the Easter Rising symbol read: “We can confirm that disciplinary proceedings have been opened on this matter. Please understand we cannot comment further at this stage nor speculate on any outcome.”

Regan, meanwhile, said: “Nothing has changed overnight.

“Fifa understand the decision. We spoke to them on Wednesday, they expressed their position, we expressed ours.

“We discussed the matter with the FA, we’ve sought legal advice and we believe that the decision for players to wear armbands with poppies on them on Armistice Day is the right one.”

The SFA and its English counterparts insist the poppy is a symbol of remembrance and respect and should not be regarded as political. However, there is a risk that Fifa may impose a points deduction or, more likely, a fine on both associations.

Regan added that he hoped attention would now switch to the game itself as the crunch Wembley fixture nears.

“It will be nice to talk about football and for Gordon [Strachan] and the squad to get ready for one of the biggest matches we’ve had for years,” said Regan.

“It’s a fantastic stadium, a great occasion and I’m sure the players will be up for the oldest fixture in international football.

“We’re into the business end now. We’re getting ready for the game. The squad will get together on Sunday night and then it will be all about getting ready for Wembley.”

Regan was speaking at the official opening of Scottish sport’s new £33 million performance centre, Oriam, at the Heriot-Watt University campus in Edinburgh. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon cut the ribbon at the state-of-the-art facility which will become a home for Scottish football, rugby and other sports.

The centre includes Europe’s biggest indoor football facility and has already hosted Scotland Under-16s’ Victory Shield games and Regan said it would soon be home to all the country’s national teams.

“That’s the plan, we’re midway through our campaign at the moment,” said Regan. “The hotel is not built yet and there is still some further work to do.

“We fully intend for all our national teams, coaching and education, coach development, referee development, performance analysis all to be based at Oriam.

“Back in 2011 we said we need to have world-class facilities in Scotland to compliment our performance strategy that is going to allow us to develop elite players to pull on the dark blue jersey. It’s great seeing it coming to reality with the official opening. It’s a fantastic facility that has been delivered on time and on budget, a tenth of the budget of [the English FA’s] St George’s Park.”

The SFA is currently going through a recruitment process to find a new performance director to replace Brian McClair, who stepped down in the summer.

The new man will be based at Oriam and Regan said the appointment would be “the best person for the job, ultimately”.

He added that the search is not limited to the world of football. “There is nothing that hasn’t been considered,” said the chief executive. “You know, we’re considering the best person to lead Scottish football’s performance strategy. So there is nothing that is off the table at the moment.”