In Flanders Field

“In Flanders fields the poppies blow

Between the crosses, row on row”

These lines inspired the small, red, plastic poppies which are symbols for the remembrance of those have given their lives in wars around the world. That red poppy should be a symbol of peace amidst today’s conflicted world but for some, hidden away behind their ivory towers in Zurich, it seems it is rapidly becoming the basis for a war.

Admittedly only a war that will be played out in the courts of Europe but no matter where the battlefield it is a war which in itself is an insult to all those for who that poppy represents. You may think this is a little too political topic for what is essentially a sports blog but this conflict is all about football’s governing body suddenly deciding, nearly a century after they were first worn, that it is against their rules to display poppies at one of their international matches.

I have blogged previously about the stand-off between FIFA and the English and Scottish FAs but today the Welsh and Northern Irish FAs have been told they are also being investigated. Both of these FAs decided they wouldn’t challenge FIFA’s edict and their players went onto the field with only black armbands so what was their crime? Several incidents of the display of poppy symbols and in the case of the Welsh FA the crime of fans wearing poppies during the match.

The fans wearing poppies during the match!

Now I am no political firebrand but the fact a sport’s governing body has the temerity to tell me what I can and cannot wear when I go to see my national team does make my blood boil. In the recent USA versus Mexico match no doubt there would have been more than a few pro and anti Trump messages daubed on the t-shirts and caps of the fans, and if there were surely these would fall foul of the FIFA ground safety regulations which state “the promotion or announcement of political or religious messages in stadiums is strictly prohibited”. Or does a “Make America Great” hat translate as “FIFA wouldn’t dare to mess with us?” Remember the investigations over FIFA corruption emanated from America’s shores.

Most of the world would agree there are symbols which should not be displayed anywhere, symbols which dredge up memories of hate and intolerance and surely these are the symbols which FIFA should use these regulations to enforce? Or do the powers that be in Zurich really believe a red plastic poppy should be bracketed with the swastika or a pointy white hood?

When I first read this news story I hoped it was the latest example of a fake news story making its way into the mainstream but then I remembered we are talking about FIFA and I actually laughed as I thought to myself, maybe it would be better if we brought back Sepp!

FIFA – Scared and Incompetent

poppy

Tomorrow England take on Scotland in a World Cup qualifier in a match which should have been all about an on the pitch rivalry which, although both countries have faltered in recent years, is all about wanting to beat the Auld Enemy no matter what. Instead what we will get as the two teams walk out is a show of solidarity between the two nations as the FA and the Scottish FA stick two proverbial fingers up at the incompetent, scared footballing bureaucrats at FIFA.

Incompetent because instead of Ireland’s display of a logo celebrating the centenary of the Easter Rising being an example of FIFA’s laws being relaxed we now can assume FIFA had no idea what was going on because they have no decided they are going to discipline the Irish FA, sorry Ireland! It seems England and Scotland’s crime was to actually ask permission to wear a poppy armband! What we should have done is worn the armbands and got on with the game.

And scared because I get the impression that FIFA is playing a game of bluff. England and Scotland have told FIFA they are going to defy the ban with FIFA responding by saying any kind of sanction is possible. OK, so what is the sanction? FIFA knows England and Scotland are going to defy the ban, surely they must know what the punishment will be or are they, as I suspect, hoping England and Scotland will back down and the controversy will all blow over?

So I’d just like to give a word of warning and a piece of advice to those at FIFA who seem to have an exaggerated belief in their own importance to the modern game, England and Scotland are not going to back down so let the Home Nations wear their poppy armbands and instead get on with trying to deal with the real problems in today’s game like the corruption which has seeped into your own organisation.

FIFA and The Poppy

poppy

Today the English and Scottish FAs have decided to take a stand together against the hypercritic bureaucracy that is FA. That an organisation which has been in the news for all the wrong reasons over the last twenty-four months should tell the British national teams that they can’t wear a poppy armband is as Theresa May put it, outrageous.

Here in New Zealand Armistice Day isn’t observed as it is in Europe, instead Australian and Kiwi soldiers are remembered on Anzac Day in April and I can imagine the outrage if any World Sporting Body dared to suggest poppies could not be displayed in memory of those who gave their lives for us.

Anzac and Armistice Day are not political, personal or religious events, as dictated by FIFA’s rules, but a way of remembering and saying thank you, similar to the black armbands worn to remember a person close to the club or to the game. Therefore, to make wearing a poppy into a political argument is nothing more than scandalous and just goes to show FIFA are still concentrating on the wrong things, even after their much vaunted regime change.

In a game riddled with self-serving clubs, avaricious agents and spoilt professionals shouldn’t the decision on whether a nation wants to give thanks to their fallen be at the bottom of their agenda. In the past FIFA has allowed the Home Nations to wear a poppy armband and there were no complaints or protests around the world and even as recently the Republic of Ireland were allowed to wear a slogan celebrating the century of the Easter Rising.

The following day at Twickenham the England rugby team will enter the field with poppies on their shirts and the Rugby authorities have been described as very supportive so why should football be any different?

So please FIFA for once see common sense and, although it may be embarrassing to your new regime, do a u-turn and let the Home Nations wear a poppy if they want to.