FIFA. THE GOVERNING body of world football. The organisation that has run the game of football with integrity and honour for the past 112 years; that gave rise to the game becoming the most popular on Earth; and the one that sold the sport’s flagship event to the highest bidder, exposing itself to be rife with corruption and greed.
The latest debacle to surround this noble organisation involves FIFA declaring that the national sides of the home nations were not allowed to wear the symbol of the poppy on their playing jerseys for their matches on Armistice Day. FIFA denied requests from the FA, FAW and SFA to be granted permission to wear the symbol on black armbands, something which is not uncommon. They stated that the poppy is “a politicised symbol” that has no place in the game, and could cause offence given its connotations to some groups.
The England side has worn the poppy before, and teams in the Premier League have worn the symbol on their shirts for many years, although not without incident. Just last season, West Bromwich Albion and Ireland winger James McClean caused a stir after refusing to adorn the poppy on his shirt, a stance he has maintained through his entire career, stretching back to his days at Wigan Athletic. In a letter to the chairman of Wigan, Mike Whelan, stated, “for me, to wear the poppy would be a gesture of disrespect for the innocent lives lost in the Troubles”, referring specifically to Bloody Sunday in 1972, where British soldiers shot dead 26 protesters in Derry. McClean’s disdain for the poppy symbol makes FIFA’s stance somewhat understandable, as the poppy acts as a symbol of remembrance for Brits lost in all conflicts, not just the two World Wars, as is the common belief.
The British military has been involved in some appalling acts across the globe, and the concern from FIFA could stem from them not wanting to be seen as condoning football being used as a political weapon.
At the start of the month, FIFA opened disciplinary proceedings against the governing body of football in the Republic of Ireland, the FAI, for having embroided on the shirts of the national side a symbol to mark the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising. What is remarkable is that the match in which these shirts were worn (a friendly against Switzerland) was on 25 March, nearly eight months ago. How such a ‘political statement’ meandered past the watchful eyes of FIFA’s PC police is baffling, considering how hard they’ve come down on the home nations this time around.
What sparked FIFA into calling out the FAI was actually a cruel twist of irony. As the FA and SFA began to build their case against FIFA, they sought to highlight the fact that the Irish team were allowed to display such a contentious political statement on their kit, while their own national teams were not given permission to show their poppies of remembrance. Although the poppy is clearly not advocating any sort of violence, it could be viewed from their perspective as setting a dangerous precedent for the politicising of the game, something which could be very damaging given the ever increasing reach of the game.
However, from a common sense viewpoint, I think it is silly of FIFA to try and prevent the teams from wearing the symbol. There was a rare opportunity last week for the two nations of Scotland and England to come together at Wembley Stadium and give their thanks to those who have died in war, defending their countrymen’s democratic rights.
If those that had been killed in the wars of previous centuries had not made the sacrifice, the game between the old rivals may not be taking place at all. For FIFA to try and deny the players and fans of the game the chance to remember those who have been lost I believe is an overstepping of the mark.
The FA and SFA have said that they will defy FIFA’s stance no matter what the consequences. I applaud this stance, and I am sure the people whom the poppy is designed to remember would do so as well. The poppy is a symbol of peace, remembrance and reflection, not a symbol of war and politics.
For two rival nations to stand together with such a symbol on their shirts could not be further from being a political statement. It is a statement of peace and of thanks, one I will savour when 11 November comes round again.