On FIFA and poppies

There’s a big furore in Britain at the moment about the fact that FIFA have told the England and Wales football teams that they can’t wear poppies on their shirts during their upcoming international fixtures.

For those who don’t know, the red poppy is worn by many people at this time of year here in commemoration of Remembrance Day.

It’s understandable that there is strong feeling, given that war (and death) are emotive topics at the best of times, but the level of debate on this topic has been incredibly poor. The typical reaction has been along the predictable lines of “this is political correctness gone mad”, “who are FIFA to interfere”, and so on. Even the prime minister got in on the act today. I believe that this is misguided.

The basis of FIFA’s decision is a broader rule that they have of “member nations not adorning their shirts with ‘commercial’, ‘political’, or ‘religious’ symbols or messages”.

Most people here are interpreting it as FIFA saying that wearing poppies is “political”, in the sense that it indicates some political allegiance within UK politics, or perhaps some more philosophical allegiance in favour of war in general, or one or more of the wars we’ve been involved in specifically. To some extent that might even be true - although it’s fair to say that many people wear the poppy as a general recognition of the pain, suffering and sacrifice of war on all sides - but in any case it’s totally missing the point.

The point is that what is a “war” is subjective, what is a “just war” is even more subjective, and who “the fallen” might includes depends entirely on your point of view.

If you allow the England team to wear poppies, you’d have to allow players from any nation in the world wearing items commemorating their own particular conflicts. Other parts of the world might regard these conflicts as anything but just - they might involve alleged genocide, terrorism, and so on.

Simply calling something a war is a political act.

FIFA aren’t passing judgement on any particular war, they’re enforcing a general rule precisely in order to avoid having to do that.

For once in my life, I’m surprised to find myself agreeing with Sepp Blatter and company!