Football is a proud English invention. The game was first codified in England in 1863.
It is also among our most impressive exports. It is a fine accomplishment to have brought such pleasure and excitement to the world. If we might find that we get beaten at our own game on occasion that is fine too – all part of being good sports.
What strains our equanimity however is to be told by FIFA, the Fédération Internationale de Football Association, that England and Scotland players who meet at Wembley for a match on November 11 – Armistice Day – are banned from wearing Poppies.
The Football Associations of England and Scotland will defy the ban. Players will wear black armbands with poppy emblems – regardless of whatever punishment FIFA after due deliberation deems appropriate.
The offence, in FIFA’s mind, derives from the notion that wearing a Poppy is “political”. Well there is a claim (variously attributed to Karl Marx or Bob Marley) that “Everything is political.”
For instance, is a willingness to represent your country playing in the national team itself political? Was it “political” when Britain hosted a match in 1947 with revenue going to FIFA to rescue the body from financial collapse?
We can get caught up with semantics. But for the British the act of wearing a Poppy is one of remembrance and deep gratitude for the sacrifice that has been made for us. In the beautifully simple words of John Maxwell Edmonds: “When you go home, tell them of us and say/For your tomorrows these gave their today.”
While the rest of the year we might take our freedom for granted for a week or two we are prompted to acknowledge the astonishing scale of our debt. It is very much a unifying time – across political parties, all classes, ages, religions, all parts of the United Kingdom.
Fatma Samoura is a bureaucrat from Senegal who used to work for the UN and she now earns £1 million a year as Secretary General of FIFA – despite having no experience of football. She suggests that England and Scotland could face “any kind of sanction” – perhaps even losing a couple of qualifying points for the 2018 World Cup. When set in the perspective of the penalties suffered by those we choose to honour, our Football Associations are right to face such threats with equanimity.
Simple solution to poppies and FIFA objections: don’t play football on Armistice Day.
— Sr CatherineWybourne (@Digitalnun) November 3, 2016
By contrast what has FIFA left unpunished over the years? Corruption has been endemic in the organisation and efforts to expose if it have been suppressed or ignored.
Sepp Blatter was the Secretary General from 1981–1998 and then FIFA president in 1998.
In 2002 an internal investigation of mismanagement by Michel Zen-Ruffinen was halted.
In 2012 the Council of Europe that it was “difficult to imagine” that Blatter was unaware of millions of pounds in bribes paid to FIFA officials by a company called ISL for TV rights.
In 2014 The Sunday Times revealed that secret payments that helped Qatar to win the World Cup bid.
As seven FIFA officials were arrested in Zurich last year Blatter behaved like a player refusing to leave the pitch after being shown a Red Card. He decided to run for a fifth term and was elected. After some muddled resigning and un-resigning he was then suspended in October last year.
Few can have confidence that the drastic changes needed to reform this bent outfit have yet been undertaken.
As the Prime Minister Theresa May said yesterday: “Before they start telling us what to do, they jolly well ought to sort their own house out.”
If FIFA decides to penalise our football teams for honouring the dead then it will be interesting to hear from FIFA’s sponsors – including Coca Cola, Visa and Adidas – what their view is.
Why not give a bit extra to the Royal British Legion this year by spending a bit less on their products?