Footballers aren’t banned from wearing the poppy

24 June 2020
What was claimed

Football players will display Black Lives Matter on their shirts but weren’t allowed to display the poppy symbol.

Our verdict

Footballers in the Premier League have displayed the words Black Lives Matter on their shirts recently, and have always been allowed to wear the poppy. Home nations teams were fined in 2016 for wearing the poppy in an international fixture, but this rule has since been changed.

A number of viral Facebook posts claim that while football players are displaying the words “Black Lives Matter” on their shirts, they were not or are not allowed to wear the poppy symbol.

This refers to old rules about whether a poppy could be worn and claims footballers are not allowed to wear a poppy are now incorrect. Footballers are not banned from wearing the poppy. 

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What do the laws of the game say?

The laws of the game are shared by all footballing associations. Law four says: “Equipment [which includes clothing] must not have any political, religious or personal slogans, statements or images.”

There is some guidance on interpreting that law which sets out some examples of what is not permitted as a ‘political’ slogan or image. It also says: “When commemorating a significant national or international event, the sensibilities of the opposing team (including its supporters) and the general public should be carefully considered.”

The laws say: “For any offence the player and/or the team will be sanctioned by the competition organiser, national football association or by FIFA.”

How has the law evolved?

The Facebook posts could be referring to the fact that in 2016 the four home nations men’s teams were fined by FIFA for wearing the poppy in international qualifiers which FIFA deemed to be a breach of the laws of the game. We’ve written about this before.

Back then law four was much the same as it is now, but the section on interpreting the law was not yet present.  

However players in the Premier League were wearing poppies that season and didn’t face fines. The Premier League is governed directly by the English Football Association (FA), which is a FIFA member but is able to make its own interpretations on the laws of the game.

So it’s clear that different associations interpreted the law differently. 

Following appeals from UK associations, the laws of the game were then changed, allowing the wearing of the poppy and, indeed, at England’s next international against Germany on 10 November 2017, both teams wore the poppy and were not fined. 

What is the current position of the Premier League and footballing associations?

Over the past week, footballers in the Premier League have worn shirts with their names replaced by the words “Black Lives Matter.”

Premier League footballers also wear the poppy in November, which the Royal British Legion describe as “a way of showing appreciation for the service and sacrifice of our Armed Forces, veterans and their families, both past and present.” The Premier League is also a partner of the Royal British Legion which runs the Poppy Appeal. A post claiming that football is supporting the “BLM movement” but not “the Poppy” is wrong. 

It’s unclear whether FIFA would also consider Black Lives Matter messaging to contravene the rules, should an international team choose to wear it, once international fixtures resume.  

Another post claims the FA wouldn’t let poppies be worn on shirts. This is incorrect. Players in FA competitions such as the FA Cup wear the poppy. The FA governs the England football team and, so, was supportive of the decision of the team to wear the poppy back in 2016. The FA has said it supports the decision of teams playing in the Premier League, English Football League and FA Cup to support the Black Lives Matter movement.  

Finally, one post claims that footballers are forbidden to wear the poppy on their national shirts to mark the 100th anniversary of the ending of the First World War. 

This is false. While the England men’s team did not have any fixtures over the usual poppy-wearing period of late October to 11 November in 2018, the England women’s team did. They wore the poppy in their match against Sweden on 11 November 2018, the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War.

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