Fifa and the poppy debacle: the poppy just like Fifa is a “political act”.


by Blacksheep

FIFA (in their infinite wisdom) have decided that the remembrance poppy is a ‘political symbol’ and therefore should not be sported by players of England and Scotland in their forthcoming World Cup qualifier.

Not surprisingly, as this game takes place on the 11 November (the traditional day of remembrance of those who have fallen in all wars since the Great War 1914-18), this has caused much lamentation, condemnation and gnashing of teeth. Even the Prime Minister has got involved calling FIFA’s actions ‘utterly outrageous’.

Now I will nail my colours to the mast early doors. I think Poppy Day is worth marking. I always buy a poppy and wear it, and I stop work at the 11th hour on the 11th day of November (the point at the which the 1918 armistice came into force) and observe a 2 minutes silence. On Friday 11 November this year I will take my third year history students outside and we will bow our head and pay our respects to the dead.

However, whilst I think we should mark it and believe that the players of the home nations should mark it (and wear the appropriate armbands as they intend to) I don’t think we can call it anything other than a ‘political act.

I asked my colleague who teaches military history (and the First World War in particular) and he declared the poppy to be a political symbol. After all one definition would be: ‘Political symbolism is symbolism that is used to represent a political standpoint’, and war is a political act.

Governments go to war for political ends and those that kill on a battlefield do so sanctioned by the politics that send them there. By remembering the fallen we are reminding ourselves that these men  and women died defending our traditions, our way of life, culture, freedoms, from those that would impose their political ideology or colonial ambitions on us.

War is political and so the poppy is political. FIFA are correct.

However, FIFA are hypocrites and if they wish to ban the poppy they need to ban ALL political symbols.

Such as national flags, national emblems and national anthems.

When Scotland line up against England later this month both teams will display symbols on their shirts. England have the 3 lions – a medieval symbol of the Plantagenet rulers of England. The lions represent the Kingdom of England, the Duchy of Normandy and the Duchy of Aquitaine (the latter both in France of course).

Scotland’s shirts bear the cross of St Andrew and the lion rampant, another heraldic device linking back to their ancient rights as an independent nation. In 2013 the Scots also issued a new shirt which contained a reference to Bannockburn, the famous victory of the Bruce* over Edward II’s Anglo-Norman army outside Stirling.

Was this not a political symbol? Is singing the National Anthem not a ‘political’ act?

One might well argue that FIFA and UEFA are quasi-political organisations anyway, despite their protestations that they are merely sporting bodies. By granting the World Cup to Qatar and Russia – both nations with highly dubious democratic credentials  – they are acting politically. In a very basic sense politics (from the Greek – politikos, means “of, for, or relating to citizens”) ‘is the process of making decisions applying to all members of each group’. So FIFA (in acting as they have) are being ‘political’ and the FIFA symbol itself is therefore a ‘political symbol’.

I note that having had it pointed out that the Irish FA had let their players sport a reference to the Easter Rising in 1916 this year, FIFA are now investigating with the intention of issuing some sort of retrospective punishment. So nice of them to notice, seven months later. One wonders if the same ‘agents’ FIFA use to ‘police’ this sort of activity also check whether their accredited referees actually know the laws of the game?

So, in my humble opinion, this fuss about the wearing of poppies is a farce. It demonstrates that FIFA without or without Sepp Blatter in charge, are out of touch.

Gianni Infantino is little better than his predecessor and the organisation is not fit to run world football. It grants the World Cup to rogue states that invade their neighbours, (allegedly) undermine democracy in other states, employ hackers to infiltrate other countries’ systems, and use torture on their own people. When you consider then what they DO allow its a bit rich for them to tell the English and Scottish FAs that they can’t commemorate the sacrifice of millions of ordinary British, Commonwealth and other nations’ men and women in numerous modern conflicts.

The FAs are going to ignore FIFA anyway and take whatever punishment Infantino and his chums hand out. We should go further in my opinion, and opt out of the next two World Cups unless FIFA decide to start revising who they award them to. But that is perhaps too much to hope for.

* not Forsyth

Tales from Untold 

Wenger ponders whether Yaya Sanogo will ever really be good enough for Arsenal. 

The Telegraph advised Tottenham to kick Arsenal, but an elbow was as effective

Arsenal – Tottenham 1-1: If you can’t win it, make sure you don’t lose it

Arsenal v Tottenham: trying to find the team for today’s match

Arsenal v Tottenham: trying to find the future of the Tiny Totts.

Arsenal v Tottenham; trying to find a headline…

The danger of asking for simplistic change at the start of a season.


From the Arsenal History Society  

The Arsenal History Society publishes numerous series of articles exploring different aspects of Arsenal’s history.   You can find an index to all the series to date on the Society’s web site.

September 1935: After three successive championships things get sticky

Arsenal in the summer: 1935 – after three championships in a row.

The nine Arsenal players who played in all three of the consecutive championship seasons

22 Replies to “Fifa and the poppy debacle: the poppy just like Fifa is a “political act”.”

  1. I respectfully question whether the poppy is really a political symbol.
    It originates from the poppies grown naturally in the fields of Flanders and was adopted especially by Britain as a memorial to its war dead in WW1.
    Equally, France, Belgium and Germany could have adopted the flower but chose not to do so.
    To me, politics don’t come into it. 😉

  2. In as much as Fifa may not allow or allow Poppy to be won by the England and the Scottish football players on the 11th of this month in commemoration of their military fallen men & women who have tragically lost their lives, (all things under the Sun must have identity – a name) with which they are called and identified.

    I don’t think the name, ”The 3Lions” is political because that’s the name which the English FA has named their senior son with. The FA is one of the children of the English Sports ministry have. While the Sports ministry in turn is one of the children of the souvenir Majesty the Queen’s government has. Her Majesty the Queen is a god supposedly that named herself England for identification purpose.

    Fifa is not banning England and Scotland per say but banning the action they are jointly about to take which in my own view is being taken on moral and sympathy ground to remember the sacrifice their lost love ones have paid for them. But at the instance invoking by their governments.

    If at our individual levels we can remember and celebrate our birthdays, remember our dead loved ones by having their obituaries announced or published in the media, visit their burying places to pay respect to them, and remember and celebrate the day marking our country’s independence from a powerful authority, which I think should not be classified as political remembrance or celebration. I think Fifa should reviewed it’s standing Laws in regard to this wearing of poppy by England and Scotland to allow them to wear it on the 11th of this month.

    Should Fifa went ahead to deduct a point each from England and Scotland World Cup qualifying point tables as punishment for wearing poppy as they’ve threatened to do, that decision if finally adopted by Fifa will be seen as an unpopular action taken by the countries of the World who also can do this kind of thing England and Scotland are about to do.

  3. I think by giving the World Cup to Russia and Qatar we have evidence of FIFA acting NOT in political way.

    The political choice would have been to offer the World Cup to the so-called nice countries.

    But who is nice? And who determines who is nice.

    In my view the truly nice countries are Switzerland, Sweden, Denmark, Botswana, Zambia, Malawi and Fiji.
    These countries have good human rights, they don’t start wars, and they have free and fair elections.

    Maybe some of those countries who point at Russia and Qatar as bad countries also have dirty hands too.

    The Poppy is a political symbol. It represents soldiers who died fighting for a political cause. It is an honourable thing to die for your country and your country’s political system.

    The Irish also used their football shirts to portray a political message against what the English/British did to them.

    I think if Fifa allowed all countries to display messages of past political victories and injustices on the shirts it could lead in future to even greater tensions amongst the supporters.

    I think the FA could do more good if they donated all proceeds from that game against Scotland to the War Veterans Fund (charities) instead of trying to win a cheap political point by insisting on having a poppy on the shirts or armbands.

    I believe all political symbols should be banned from football. And I don’t think we should cheapen the debate by saying wearing national colours or singing the anthem is a political act. We all know what this debate is referring to.

    In conclusion, I think the poppy display by British citizens is a honourable thing which should continue to be done by all of us. We however should keep this political symbol away from politics.

  4. Oops … Last sentence should read that we should keep the poppy away “from football.”

  5. Great article Blacksheep. Personally, I am a lifelong pacifist, but I am happy to wear the poppy. I feel that the poppy commemorates the tragedy of the loss of life on all sides of the conflicts of the twentieth century. I realise that the poppy is mostly only worn in Britain, but for me it commemorates the loss of German life every bit as much as the loss of British life, and the loss of those from all nations who fought.

    There is a difference between pacifism and denial. I wish these wars hadn’t taken place, but that doesn’t make me any less sad about the people who died in them and the families left behind. The warmongers generally survived the conflicts, it was the innocent people who were the victims, and I choose to commemorate them by wearing the representation of a beautiful wild flower. What could be less offensive?

  6. Tim,

    I have tried to translate a pacifist song written by Willem Vermandere, a poet, singer- songwriter from the Westhoek. The Westhoek is another name for the Ypres area. If I remember it right he wrote this for all the dead soldiers from whatever country they came from to die in his Westhoek.

    Thousand soldiers

    If ever you pass in the “Westhoek”
    in the rain and the Northern wind
    you will be reversed back in time
    it is the war you will find here

    Yes, you will find the war over here
    the graves of thousand of soldiers
    always someones father, always someones child
    now in the silence of dead and all alone

    let the trees be silent
    and the grass will not tell you
    and the wind should not sing
    that your dead was for nothing
    that would be too terrible

    Tell them there is prosperity in the land
    and peace is written in the laws
    we do make more weapons but they are smart now
    but we make them to prevent the war

    With big atomic rockets at the top
    we may experiment
    and if we shoot on towards another
    it’s just for fun you know

    If ever you pass in the “Westhoek”
    in the rain and the Northern wind
    you will be reversed back in time
    it is the war you will find here

    Yes, you will find the war over here
    the graves of thousand of soldiers
    always someones father, always someones child
    thousand and thousand soldiers
    thousand and thousand soldiers
    thousand and thousand soldiers

    If you want to hear the song you can listen to it following this link that way you get the feeling of the song more even though you will not understand it I think. Even for regular Flemish speaking people it is sometimes hard to understand as it is written and sung in the local dialect. As my wife is from there I understand it rather well.

    The thing that touches me most in this song is that he underlines what I mostly feel about wars that all the victims didn’t have to be there. They should have been with their father, mother, wife, children…. if only the big heads in this world would realise that. I can dream…

  7. Personally I think this is one of the best and most important articles that we have ever published, and I’d like to thank Blacksheep wholeheartedly for it.

    I think Blacksheep explained the notion of the political essence of a) war and b) Fifa perfectly. If his argument has not convinced you, then nothing I can say will do so.

    But I would add a personal perspective. As I have endlessly told my children, members of our family died for their right to vote and the right to live beyond a Nazi tyranny. That is a political right that I have, and which my children now have because in a very small way, my family played their part.

    The engagement of Fifa in any debate about rememberance is the ultimate obscenity. Nothing could be more disgraceful.

  8. The wearing of poppies is 100% NOT a political act.
    It’s a sign of the celebration of Peace and the remembrance of those who lost their lives.
    Neither of these has any particular allegiance to any one political party or process.

    Tony, 11/11 is predominantly WW1 rather than WW2.

  9. Thanks Walter, a very moving song. If it has lost any of the original linguistic elegance in translation, the spirit of it comes through loud and clear.

    Your understanding of Northern European politics is obviously better than mine. I would be interested to know if there are communities in which the poppy is considered to be an offensive symbol, rather than a symbol of peace? I have never come across such a thing myself.

  10. Thanks Blacksheep.

    Personally, I do not think a poppy is political. We are just acknowledging the loss seen in a stupid action (war). Much of politics is stupid, but stupid isn’t limited to politics.

  11. An interesting article Blacksheep, but although I am not a lecturer in history or politics I would still disagree with your colleague’s finding that wearing a poppy is a political act. (I am an amateur naval historian – but not a lecturer).

    Most of us would see the poppy as a symbol of rememberance, based on its adoption by the Royal British Legion, post WW1, chosen because the delicate beauty of the poppy and its resiliance contrasted with man’s destruction.

    But the RBL is not a political organisation, does not get involved in any aspect of government, does not put up candiates and most certainly does not get involved in the corruption represented by FIFA! So I am not convinced that supporting the memory of loved ones who gave their all for the cause of freedom is a political act – but even if I am wrong – those very brave men and their families still should be supported.

    The only groups who I am aware of who historically do not support (and indeed discourage) the wearing of the poppy are the successive governments of the Republic of Ireland – this discouragement spread to the more bitter factions within the Roman Catholic community within Northern Ireland. One aspect of this nonsense is the the bravery of many southern Irishmen who fought for Britian has never been properly acknowledged by their countrymen.

  12. OT
    Apparently Bellerin has signed an extension on his contract which is good news and hopefully will put to bed all these annoying Barcelona/Man City rumours so loved by the media and blogettas.

  13. Very interesting article Blacksheep. That’s what makes Untold so different from other sites, we can diverse into other subjects and have good sensible discussions.
    I enjoyed the piece from Walter and the trenches shown I am sure were the same as I saw near Ypres when we had a holiday in Bruges last year. Thank you for the translation and although not understanding the words it sounded really moving.
    As Tony says many families like his had made a small contribution for our freedom but for those families personally it was immense.

  14. I believe the poppy represents all British victims of war. And not just our soldiers who died in WW1 and WW2.
    I am led to understand that our soldiers who died in Libya, Iraq and Falkland wars are also honoured by the poppy.

    Someone has said our Irish friends and neighbors have at some point expressed dissatisfaction with the wearing of the poppy.

    Maybe it is a political symbol but we as the British regard it as a good and great symbol which every political party subscribes to. (After all which political party could ever go against honouring our fallen soldiers? That would be political suicide).

    We all love the poppy symbol but we just differ in describing it as political or non-political. We all have friends and relatives who fought Queen and Country so we respect the poppy symbol.
    Even our PM has commented on the poppy issue and FIFA. Could this be evidence it is matter of political significance (and not just a sporting matter)?

  15. Great news indeed.
    Bellerine is a top, top player.
    Come on Sanchez and Ozil … Please sign too.

  16. Thanks for this article ,Blacksheep ; Walter , for that translation and clip ; and you guys for your comments . It was most enlightening for me.
    Such a sad , heartfelt and poignant rendition of that song .

  17. The history of the thoughts of men, curious on account of their infinite variety, is also sometimes instructive.

    Although it is dangerous to have too much knowledge of certain subjects, it is still more dangerous to be totally ignorant of them.

    The power of words is immense. A well-chosen word has often sufficed to stop a flying army, to change defeat into victory, and to save an empire.
    -E. de Girardin

    All quotations from –

    Strong thoughts are iron nails driven in the mind, that nothing can draw out.

    Of what is man certain? What lasts? What passes? What is chimerical? What is real?… Every body drags its shadow, and every mind its doubt.
    -Victor Hugo.

  18. About the Westhoek, the surroundings of Ypres do you know that almost every day farmers still risk their lives when plouhgin their fields as they risk to end up against some unexploded bombs. Some of them filled with gas.
    The farmers just move the bombs to the side of the fields where the special division that is specialised in dismantling old WO1 bombs picks them up and brings them to the camp where they destroy them one by one.
    Some days they bump in to the remains of dead soldiers who never have been buried. Again the army collects the bodies and tries to find the family if they can find any identification of the body.

    As my wife is from Ypres and her grandfather has been performing the Last Post on a daily basis for many, many, many years I feel a bit more linked to Ypres and the terrible events that happened there.
    War is terrible and as I said even 100 years after the terrible events still the war is costing casualities from time to time.

    Let the mighty leaders and generals fight their wars amongst eachother but don’t drag ordinary people in to your foolishness.

  19. Walter , the stupidity of war seems to be lost on so many.And I don’t see the situation improving anytime soon.

    “There is no flag large enough to cover the shame of killing innocent people.”

    ” Civil disobedience is not our problem. Our problem is civil obedience. Our problem is that people all over the world have obeyed the dictates of leaders…and millions have been killed because of this obedience…Our problem is that people are obedient allover the world in the face of poverty and starvation and stupidity, and war, and cruelty. Our problem is that people are obedient while the jails are full of petty thieves… (and) the grand thieves are running the country. That’s our problem.”
    ― Howard Zinn

  20. Brickfields. Love the quote on obedience. The great tragedy of WW1 is that so many went willingly into battle. I hesitate to criticise these innocent victims, but I hope humanity has learnt a lesson not to support politicians who sell themselves with messages of hatred of the other. I hope and expect that US citizens will demonstrate that they understand this message from history today.

  21. The poppy is a flower that grows wild in many countries. The remembrance of war dead with the poppy as its symbol is because the fields on which battles were fought and munition had ravaged were left silent & bare………until the poppy rose above it all & glowed its red sign of life in abundance. This symbol of life is what gives us hope for peace. Call it whatever but do not stop hope for peace.

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