Weekly football conversation since 2009, with Graham Sibley, Jan Bilton and Terry Duffelen. Listen on Acast, Apple, Google, Spotify, Stitcher, TuneIn or your podcatcher of choice.

On Poppies



As if English football has enough trouble with race rows it now finds itself embroiled in a deeply emotive argument about the annual tradition of displaying a poppy to remember the soldiers who died in battle during Great Britain and its Commonwealth's numerous wars. The English FA, as a gesture of support and remembrance, want the England players to wear shirts featuring a poppy motif this weekend in their friendly match against Spain. FIFA have refused on the basis that wearing the poppy contravenes their rule on the use of political symbols during their football matches.

Needless to say, large sections of the English media and the British government are up in arms. Everyone from Sepp Blatter to the Germans seems to be responsible for FIFA's refusal to break their own rule and make an exception for the Poppy. However, I believe that, not for the first time, the English media and the British government are wrong.

Expressing solidarity with soldiers who have died in battle is a political statement and wearing a poppy symbolises that statement. The poppy is also a fundraising device for the Royal British Legion which, although charitable in nature, is political.

As much as the poppy may represent a harmless act of charity and remembrance it is still a political symbol and as such is against FIFA rules on political neutrality.

FIFA have to deal with some federations whose national governments have some pretty strange views on how things should be done. This is one of the reasons why they banned political symbols on football shirts in the first place.

I know it's easy and fashionable to attack FIFA. However, on this occasion, they are right. Were the poppy to be exempt from the rule, the door would be open to politicians and other ne’er-do-wells to use football to propagate dodgy ideologies and odious politics. If FIFA were to refuse then they would be accused of bias and double standards. If they were to agree they would be accused of supporting those same views by the same people criticising them now for not allowing the England team to wear poppies on their shirts.

Unfortunately, I believe there are some folk who are using the poppy ban to push their own anti-FIFA agenda. I find this distasteful and disrespectful to the memory of those who died and to those who survived the battlefield.

Between banning political symbols and people who exploit the memory of the fallen in order to pursue their own agenda, I am with the former.

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