In a world where the Middle East is engulfed by conflict, where democracy in the UK feels like it’s falling apart and where a lunatic is within a whisker of being the most powerful man on the planet, it’s hard to care much about the current stushie between FIFA and the football authorities of England and Scotland over the wearing of the Poppy.
Still, albeit at the risk of contributing to a diversion away from the really important issues facing us all, I’ll offer a few words on the subject. Some of you will have read my previous post on the subject of Poppy Outrage. If you have, it may surprise you to learn that I think that it’s FIFA which is largely to be faulted here.
No-one argues against the noble intention behind FIFA’s policy of not allowing political messages or symbols to be displayed on team shirts at any match that is part of one of its tournaments. The problem lies with FIFA’s stance that the Poppy is just such a political symbol. That’s a mistake, because it only reinforces the difficulty with this issue, rather than helping to find a path through it. There is also the danger more widely of missing some opportunities here.
Yes, I have to accept that you can indeed fairly characterise the remembrance of those killed or maimed by war as a political act; but, that’s true only in the strict sense that you could say the same for just about any public utterance or sign. If everything is deemed to be political, then there’s no longer any force to the term and thereby there’s no longer any worthwhile distinction that can be made.
FIFA puts a lot of energy into promoting its anti-racism message. Laudable it may be in most people’s eyes; but, it sure as hell is political, by any reasonable definition of the term. Is the principal intention behind the Poppy Appeal any less worthy?
None of this changes my frustration overall with “Poppy Fascism”, at the way an act of genuine remembrance has been morphed into a nasty campaign against anyone who doesn’t fall into line. To quote from my previous post: “The poignant plea of lest we forget has been turned into an implicit mantra of lest we stop supporting war-mongering. Not so much never again as rather repeat as required.”.
Neither is it the case that my criticism of FIFA means that I absolve the FA and the SFA from blame. Those organisations chose to pick a fight here, when they didn’t need to. As a Scotland supporter, I’m particularly concerned at the prospect of a points deduction: that might be something England could comfortably live with, but the same wouldn’t be true for us …
There is a way round this, I suggest.
Let there be a communal act of remembrance at the stadium on 11th November: a minute’s silence; a chorus or two of Abide With Me led by Katherine Jenkins; perhaps also a solemn word by a cleric or a Royal. Let this be confined to the period before the match itself: the players would wear appropriate armbands during the ceremony, but then these would be removed before the kick-off.
Most important of all, let there be no active military presence. No guns firing salutes. No regimental colours or other displays. Nothing at all of that kind.
Let’s not miss the opportunities we have here. The immediate one is to show FIFA that there need not be anything political about this. The longer-term opportunity is to show that to ourselves.
This is our chance to set a new standard for Remembrance, to reclaim the Poppy as a mark of regret, rather than belligerence. That’s got to be something worth fighting for.
1. The number of those who have is comfortably in double figures, I’ll have you know.
2. For those who get the references: no abseil from the roof by uniformed personnel; no bloody flegs at all.