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Poppies, Politics and FIFA

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Bristol chapter.

Since 1921, poppies have been worn as a symbol of Remembrance, commemorating those who lost their lives in war, and serving as a solemn reminder of the sacrifices made in the name of freedom. However, in the run-up to a World Cup qualifier, FIFA has denied a request from England and Scotland, asking for players to wear their traditional black armbands featuring the poppy in the Armistice Day match.

The International Football Association Board (Ifab) are responsible for formulating the laws, which are then upheld by FIFA. In response to the FAs requests, they sent a reminder of the following statement, found in section four of the 2016/17 Laws of the Game:

“Equipment must not have any political, religious or personal slogans, statements or images. Players must not reveal undergarments that show political, religious, personal slogans, statements or images, or advertising other than the manufacturer’s logo. For any infringement the player and/or the team will be sanctioned by the competition organiser, national football association or to be justified by FIFA.”

(Photo Credit: Daily Mail)

Ultimately, there is no argument that the poppy is a religious or commercial symbol, and so the controversy lies in its political association. This isn’t the first time the poppy’s place in football has been questioned, as there was public outcry over FIFA’s similar claims of its inappropriateness in 2011. Of course, there are other instances of people arguing against the emblem. Channel 4 newsreader, Jon Snow, infamously referred to the pressure on public figures to wear one as “poppy fascism”, stating it to be a matter for his private life. Another example would be Republic of Ireland midfielder, James McClean, who argues the poppies represent all conflicts the United Kingdom has been involved in, including “Bloody Sunday” in 1972.

In his open letter, Charles Byrne, Director General of The Royal British Legion, appeals to FIFA to “rethink [their] approach to remembrance and the use of the poppy.” He requests all people to recognise every generation of Armed Forces, whether it be from the Second World War to the present day. We must continue to honour and support this community, and allow the memory of the fallen to be carried by all those willing, even if it is in the public realm of an international football match.

Whilst FIFA have since declared that their ban of the emblem is a “distortion of the facts”, it has raised the question of the poppy’s place in such a politically-driven world.

(Photo Credit: CNN)

Poppies are not used as a symbol in support of war – their significance runs far beyond such superficial interpretation. They represent the sacrifices made by all members of the Armed Forces, civilians, and their loved ones. They represent respect for the bravery, courage and commitment of those who fought for the freedom of today. They represent love, loss, and hope for a peaceful future. They are personal, and mean something different to everybody of any age, gender or belief.

No one is being forced into wearing this symbol, and to do so would be to go against everything the poppy represents. I understand those who choose not to. I understand those who wish to swap the red poppy for a white one, and I understand those who prefer to commemorate in a less public manner. I respect that. However, I shall continue to wear my poppy, and I shall continue to use it as a reminder for myself that sacrifice comes in many forms, and we should not ever take advantage of peace or freedom, though it is easy to lose sight of this due to recent events.

And so I request one thing: please do not try to silence our mourning. Wearing a poppy is not the same as wearing an overt, polarising political statement. We are not brandishing logos of a hateful nature, or strolling around phrases that attempt to indoctrinate those who do not follow in suit. To label something as “political” is to suggests its adherence to one school of thought, and disregard all those opposing it. The poppy is not associated with one party, one people, or one belief. It is far more complicated and personal, and ultimately the more time we spend arguing over this “fascist” poppy phenomenon, the further we are from honouring, respecting and remember those for whom the poppy represents.

(Photo Credit: British Legion)