Are poppies a political statement?

Football’s governing body, FIFA, has turned down a request from England and Scotland football players to wear armbands that would feature poppies on Armistice Day. Does the design really breach a ban on ‘political’ symbols?

The poppy itself is worn every November in order to commemorate members of the armed forces who have given their lives in war. It is traditional of British sports teams to add a poppy to their kit within the month of November.

Both the English and the Scottish football associations were hoping to get permission for their players to wear poppies upon their shirts on their World Cup qualifier which happens to fall on Armistice Day (11 November).

FIFA clearly states that it bans ‘political, religious or commercial messages’ from being used upon a national team’s shirt, and the Scottish FA stated that FIFA is ‘sticking to the letter of the law’. Despite this however, both the English and Scottish FAs are hoping to change FIFA’s mind.

What is clear is that the poppy is neither political nor is it commercial, so presumably the concern here is whether it can be seen as political.

The Royal British Legion (RBL) has insisted that the poppy is not a political statement or a ‘sign of support for war’, but is in fact a symbol of ‘remembrance and hope’.

This is not the first time that such a situation has arisen either. In 2011, following an outcry by the public, a solution was found which meant that England, Scotland and Wales were allowed to wear poppies on black armbands.

However not everyone shares the same viewpoint. Many do think it is political, including Harry Leslie Smith, a 93-year-old World War Two veteran. He has not worn his poppy since 2013 as he believes that “the spirit of my generation has been hijacked” by today’s politicians to “sell dubious wars” in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Another such example is Republic of Ireland and West Bromwich Albion midfielder James McClean, who has argued that it represents all the conflicts that the UK has taken part in. He cites in particular “the history where I come from in Derry” – the Northern Irish city in which took place ‘Bloody Sunday’, where British paratroopers killed unarmed civilians in January 1972.

Despite such a debate, England players have been told that they will be wearing poppies against Scotland despite FIFA regulations banning them from doing so, according to the chairman of the FA Greg Clarke. It is also a decision that has been largely condemned by Prime Minister Theresa May, who had described the decision as “utterly outrageous”.

What is clear, is that FIFA should be concerned with their own affairs, after it being mired in a long-running corruption, rather than wearing a poppy, which I see as a sign of respect to those that have died in war as opposed to a political statement.


Georgia Moulder

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