The poppy debate: why Fifa was right

Remembrance Day is a memorial day observed in Commonwealth countries to remember the members of their armed forces who have died in the line of duty since the outbreak of World War I.

Since it was established, the men’s England football team has only played one game on the day itself. On 11 November 1987, we beat Yugoslavia 4–1 away from home. But almost every year in recent memory, England has played a match somewhere close to the date. In 2005, we beat Argentina in Switzerland the day after Armistice Day. In 2001, we drew with Sweden at Old Trafford the day before.

Yet for some reason, this year there is a big row over Fifa’s original decision not to allow the England team (and indeed the Welsh team) to sport a poppy on their jerseys. Apparently today, they have changed their stance slightly, allowing poppies before the game as well as one on the black armbands that the team will wear during the friendly against Spain on Saturday 12 November.

David Cameron confronted the issue during Prime Minister’s Questions today.

I think [the questioner] not only speaks for the whole House, but in fact the whole country, [in] being completely baffled and frankly angry [at] the decision made by Fifa.

Quite frankly David, he doesn’t.

Fifa’s original stance was, in my view, correct. While I expect that the majority of people across the globe would support the principles behind the allied forces’ stance against Nazi Germany, I doubt that more recent wars in which Commonwealth countries have engaged would attract similarly unanimous support.

Sport is divorced from politics and agendas. And this is one of its beauties. The furthest it has historically gone in commemorating the past has been the wearing of black armbands as a mark of respect for a recently passed sporting hero, or a minute’s silence before a match for similar reasons.

Should Germany be allowed to wear an emblem on their jerseys to commemorate those lost in their wars? Or Afghanistan and Iraq? Or is the Commonwealth – or more to the point England – seen as a force of good, the founder of football, a country elevated above other nations’ causes?

The furore has been fatuous. And the cynic in me thinks that maybe it’s been raised this time around to divert attention away from the racist allegations against the England captain.

Instead of wearing a poppy, maybe Mr. Terry should commemorate the Commonwealth’s contribution to the war efforts by embracing fellow players that have emanated from the Commonwealth.


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