Monday, 7 November 2011

FIFA versus the poppy

You are probably aware of the recent talk about whether the England team should be allowed to wear poppies on their shirts for their upcoming friendly match against Spain.  The debate has arisen because FIFA regulations state that international football kits cannot display ‘political, religious or commercial’ messages, and FIFA are therefore telling England that they are not allowed to do it.  Many people are suggesting that England should ignore FIFA and do it anyway.

OK, deep breath now because this is a painful thing to write – I actually agree with FIFA on this.

Now, before anyone starts accusing me of being disrespectful to the memory of our fallen, I want to make it clear that I’m a big supporter of the Royal British Legion and the poppy appeal, and will get my poppy every year – it’s a cause I’d urge everybody to support.  However, the worthiness of the poppy appeal and Remembrance Sunday is not the issue here, despite what the average Daily Mail reader seems to think.

The argument that England should ignore the FIFA rules and wear the poppy smacks of a ‘little England’ mentality.  Yes the poppy appeal is important to us, but what makes it more important than any other statement that other countries might wish to make?  What if Spain decided that it wanted to wear a badge in that same match denouncing Basque separatists?  What if the USA took to the field bearing a 9-11 commemoration or Iran began to wear a verse from the Koran on their shirts?  What if North Korea start wearing a shirt in memory of their citizens killed during the Korean war or Argentina in memory of their soldiers killed during the Falklands

Its too simplistic to suggest that as the poppy is a symbol of commemoration, it should be allowed - FIFA have to look at the precedent it would set across the entire footballing world and the meanings such symbols have to others - for example the poppy is seen in China as a painful reminder of the humiliation suffered at the hands of the west during the 19th Century.

Football kits exist to identify one team from another, not to make any broader statements – however noble and well intentioned the symbol being displayed, and whatever the depth of feeling the symbol invokes to the citizens of that country.

Some people are under the impression that FIFA have introduced this rule recently in an attempt to specifically spite England, which is of course absolute nonsense.  This is a rule which exists to ensure that football, a political enough sport to begin with, does not get dragged into wider political or religious disputes.  In order to ensure that this basic integrity is maintained, some rules have to be firmly enforced and I think that England would be showing the greatest disrespect to the sport if they were to arrogantly go ahead and wear the poppy.  We have the right to commemorate our dead, but we don't have the right to ride roughshod over the rules the rest of the world play by, or to use symbols that may cause offence to others.  FIFA is right to take a wider view on this issue.

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