The smokescreen of ‘Poppygate’

Posted on November 10, 2011

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Hurrah! Silly season is over! The combined might of Prince William and David Cameron have defeated the evil forces of Sepp Blatter and FIFA. England is once again victorious! Land of Hope and Glory etc.

No, we haven’t overturned the ridiculousness of the decision to award successive World Cups to Russia and Qatar. Frank Lampard’s ‘goal’ against Germany in South Africa last year still doesn’t count. FIFA haven’t been persuaded to ban Spain from playing Barcelona players in Saturday’s friendly.

Instead, England will be allowed to wear poppies on their shirts, after FIFA agreed to relax a rule which prevented member teams from wearing items of a “political” nature on their shirts. Common sense has prevailed. Yet it must be queried why this year, 66 years after Armistice Day, this issue has cropped up. I don’t remember the same stink being caused last November, when the FIFA rule was still in place and England played France. Or the year before, when England played Brazil. In fact, I never remember it being quite such an issue before.

I am almost loth to blog about this, since there is no way I can put it better than The Fiver, which argues that the Football Association and the government are in fact using this overblown row as a smokescreen in order to pursue other agendas and bury other problems. To summarise, there are a handful of reasons why a long-imposed FIFA rule might suddenly be so concerning to the FA and David Cameron in 2011:

– The FA is still disappointed over the failed World Cup bid, and will seek any opportunity for controversy with FIFA;

– The FA has to create another media frenzy to divert attention from the media frenzy that John Terry, a man who sleeps with the girlfriends of teammates, may still captain his country in the friendlies with Spain and Sweden in spite of racist allegations against him;

– David Cameron needs to distract public attention from the scandal engulfing Theresa May;

– David Cameron needs to be on camera wearinga poppy, being patriotic and standing up for England in the face of the much greater and more important problems that he is failing to deal with.

Call me cynical, but it just seems the largely unnecessary ‘Poppygate’ has been stirred up by those with other agendas. And the symbol of the poppy as a private, understated gesture is thus even more irretrievably lost than it was before. As is well said here, this gesture ought not be forced into the public and corporate sphere. The phrase ‘poppy fascism’ is overblown, but we must be wary of getting ourselves into a place where not wearing a poppy is seen as a mark of disrespect. I don’t wear a poppy. I am not a bad person. I do respect the sacrifices of troops in various wars. And I think FIFA had every right to stand by their ruling that wearing a poppy on the shirt risked politicising the game, a stand that was in a way proven completely correct by David Cameron and Prince William becoming involved. Armistice Day is being recognised in many other ways, both at the game and throughout the country, and that should be enough.

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Posted in: Issues, Politics, Sport