Image: Flickr/Martin Pettitt

Outrage over FIFA ban exposes poppy ‘brand’

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The build-up to England’s World Cup qualifying showdown with Scotland tonight has been shrouded in controversy. FIFA’s decision to forbid players from wearing poppies on their shirts and commemorating heroes that sacrificed their lives has angered many individuals, inside and outside of the sporting world. However, is this outrage really necessary?

As a history student, I have studied the importance of continuing to remember the fallen and understand the need for commemorative shirts in English football. Every year, players of all nationalities come together in a collective statement of respect through the iconic poppy symbol.

But players such as James McClean, the West Brom and Republic of Ireland winger, have controversially rejected to wear a poppy for personal political reasons. McClean sees the poppy as marginalising victims of other conflicts since 1945 and, although he greatly respects the soldiers who fought in both World Wars, he feels that wearing a poppy would be a gesture of disrespect towards the victims of the 1972 Bloody Sunday Massacre in Derry. McClean is from the North of Ireland near Derry, so he has the right to choose not to wear a poppy and can interpret its meaning in his own way.

Patriotic journalists and pundits are too quick to summarise these decisions as wrong, just to go with popular opinion

McClean highlights that regardless of the sensitivity and emotion surrounding Armistice Day, wearing a poppy is a choice – not simply a badge to show respect. The backlash against McClean is similar to the recent reaction against FIFA. Patriotic journalists and pundits are too quick to summarise these decisions as wrong, just to go with popular opinion.

Although poppies hold great value across the nation, the efforts of May and other sympathizers to broadcast their anger seems like an overreaction

FIFA’s statement regarding the poppy ban expresses that “players’ equipment should not carry any political, religious or commercial messages”. Even Prime Minister Theresa May responded to this, referring to the decision as “utterly outrageous”. Although poppies hold great value across the nation, the efforts of May and other sympathizers to broadcast their anger seems like an overreaction.

The eagerness to televise footballers with poppies on their shirts proves that the poppy is transforming into a brand, with footballers the advertisers

Footballers are not restricted to showing their respects within ninety minutes of a football match and therefore will not be robbed of the chance to commemorate the fallen. The eagerness to televise footballers with poppies on their shirts proves that the poppy is transforming into a brand, with footballers the advertisers. The poppy is losing its core value. Remembering our war heroes should be a personal act, to realise and appreciate their sacrifice. Footballers should not wear poppies to portray themselves as role models, which makes the outrage expressed at a poppy-less shirt for ninety minutes a bit excessive.

The significance of remembrance is often overshadowed by the poppy brand. You don’t have to wear a poppy on your chest to show you respect, admire and remember Britain’s soldiers. Although commemorative shirts rightly show the collective recognition football has for our war heroes, their absence is no reason for scandal. Remembrance goes beyond football and Armistice Day should not be overshadowed by a sporting political feud.

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Comments (1)

  • Terry Washington

    To my mind, the real “outrage” is NOT FIFA’s “poppy ban” but the straitened circumstances in which many British veterans live(due in no small measure to penny pinching by BOTH Labour and Conservative successive Governments)!
    But it’s easier of course to wrap oneself in the Union flag and posture as Keeper of the patriotic flame!

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