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Thursday, November 10, 2011


It appears that the media and the general public at large in England were less than pleased with FIFA's decision not to allow the England squad to wear poppies on their shirts this coming Friday when they face Spain in a friendly at Wembley. The poppy, of course, has a special significance for the British as it grew in abundance on the fields of Flanders during some of the bloodiest conflicts of the First World War, but it seems to have been the Americans who first used the poppy as a symbol of rememberance after the war's end (and an act of charity towards the needy children of France in Belgium), and they still do today to mark Memorial Day, the USA's equivalent of Remembrance Sunday, which itself is marked not just in the UK but also around the Commonwealth. Armistice Day, which commemmorates the end of the First World War, will be held for the 93rd time on 11/11/11.

In any case, the poppy is used by the Royal British Legion for fund-raising around the time of the anniversary of the Armistice and Remembrance Sunday (which takes place on 13/11/11), the British Legion consisting of former British soldiers, and the monies raised are used to help those former comrades in need, and also the dependants of those who died.

That in itself is no bad thing, not at all, but not everybody agrees that they - or a printed version - should be worn by players on international football duty. Those supporting the wearing of the symbol on an England shirt included Prince William and David Cameron, the current Prime Minister of the UK, who called FIFA's decision "absurd" and added that it seemed "outrageous", is that it is a commemoration of Britain's war dead, not a political statement, and that Premier League clubs have the poppy on their shirts during their last match before Remembrance Sunday. Clubs the length and breadth of the UK hold a minute's silence before matches around this time of year, and did so last weekend.

British newspapers such as the Daily Mail, The Sun and the Daily Telegraph predictably jumped on the bandwagon, pouring scorn on FIFA's original stance, and the former stated that "even" the General Secretary of the DFB (Deutsches Fussball Bund - the German FA), Wolfgang Niersbach, "backed" the FA's attempts to have the poppy displayed on the England team's shirts.

Well, no he didn't, at least not explicity. He did say in an article published in yesterday's online version of the Daily Mail that it was a decision for the FA to make and that the DFB "would be happy for them to make it". He went to say that nobody had heard of the FA move in Germany, but that he could not "imagine" that the DFB would have any "objection" to England team's wearing of poppies, nor would it be a "problem" or an "issue." (However, that doesn't sound like a statement of outright support for the move.) It also said in the article that FIFA were afraid of causing offence to the Germans should the poppies be worn by the England players. Obviously not, if Herr Niersbach's comments are to be bellieved, and there was no mention of German discomfort in FIFA's statement over the matter, which was made on 5/11/11, and updated yesterday after their partial climbdown.

But why all the brouhaha? Is it so bad that the poppy be "worn" on the shirt? On the other hand, is it a bad thing that FIFA have stepped in and banned the England team from displaying the symbol on their shirts? It was, apparently, the England team who last year came up with the idea of playing in a shirt displaying the poppy, and they were in negotiation with the FA as to how they could go about organising this. Then, several days ago, someone let the cat out of the bag to the media, and, well, you can guess the rest.

The FA of Wales were also considering getting the poppy printed on their shirts in the run-up to Friday's game against Norway, but FIFA's decision not to allow the England team to do likewise also ended up putting the skids under their plans. Now the Welsh team, along with their English counterparts as well as the Scots, who play away to Cyprus on Saturday, will have to make do with the poppy-armband.

FIFA have been pillloried for their decision by those in the media, along with many of those twittering, blogging and leaving comments under online news articles, have been critical of the decision, claiming that FIFA's stance is an insult to those who have given their lives for freedom. FIFA have, however, allowed a minute's silence to be held, and, after additional pressure from the British government and Prince William, to allow the national teams representing England, Scotland and Wales to wear poppies on black armbands during international matches this weekend.

FIFA rules state that there may be no extra markings added to shirts used by national teams during the course of a season, and this is one reason given for their refusing the English team's proposal to wear the commemmorative shirt. It also says in the FIFA rule-book that any form of advertising on kit used by the national team (training kit and tracksuit excluded), be it for a company or a charity, is prohibited. The same rule is applied towards anything (emblem/logo/lettering) appearing on a shirt which might be regarded as having a political connotation. Now, the British teams in action this weekend will be wearing something which, in the eyes of many, has political connotations, even if it is "only" on a black armband - the black armband is still apparel and will be visible on the shirt. And, in doing so, breaks the FA's own rules.

For reference, the following can be found in FIFA's Equipment Regulations under Article II, General Terms, point 2.4:
"Except as explicitly authorised to the Member Associations under these Regulations, no additional elements such as marks, insignia of the Member Association, a Manufacturer or any third party, further Colours, numbers, names or Decorative Elements are permitted on Equipment items without the prior written consent of the FIFA general secretariat."

Meanwhile under Article VII, Sponsor Advertising, Sponsor Advertising For Teams, point 54.1, is what probably formed the basis of FIFA's reasoning for banning the wearing of the poppy on the England shirt:
"For all Matches, all forms of advertising for sponsors, Manufacturers (exceeding the extent of
Manufacturer’s Identification permitted under Chapter VI above) or any third parties, of political, religious or personal statements and/or other announcements, are strictly prohibited on all Playing Equipment items
used on, or brought into (permanently or temporarily), the Controlled Stadium Area."

Depending on your point of view, the poppy might be considered as a political symbol and would perhaps be reason enough for its not being allowed to be reproduced on the England team's shirts. If that wouldn't have been reason enough, then the fact that the symbol would come under the description of  "other announcements" would in itself have been sufficient for FIFA to reach its decision.

Advertising is permitted on replica kits; the replica version of the Irish national shirt has been carrying the names of sponsors for well over 20 years now. It might have been an idea for the FA to have considered releasing a commemorative shirt. The FAI, on the other hand, gave their support to a local breast cancer charity a couple of years ago by bringing out special pink versions - one for the lads and one for the girls - of the Irish national shirt (yes, complete with the sponsor's logo from a moblie telephone company) for both men and women. A worthy cause, and the women's shirt was very stylish indeed, it must be said.

The argument was also raised that if FIFA were to permit the England squad to wear the poppy design on their shirts, other countries would wish to follow suit. The potential scenarios of the North Koreans commemorating their war dead and the Chinese celebrating the "liberation" of Tibet in the same way have been mentioned many times by bloggers on various websites.

What would the reaction of those in the UK complaining about FIFA's decision be if, for instance, England qualified for the next World Cup Finals and were drawn against Argentina, and the Argentinians had the insignia of AVEGUEMA (Asociación Veteranos de Guerra de Malvinas - Falklands War Veterans' Association) emblazoned on their shirts? What then? Would the media and the British public at large then be so supportive of countries having various insignia on their shirts?

The Argentine FA could claim that AVEGUEMA was a charity and that they were merely assisting with fund-raising for the veterans' organisation. One can only imagine the hoo-hah that such a move would cause among certain sections of opinion in the UK. But, that would merely prove to be a move of gross hypocrisy on the part of those now claiming that it is only right and proper to have the poppy emblazoned on the shirt, and, as everybody knows, you can't always have it both ways. But now that FIFA have back-tracked somewhat and allowed the wearing of a poppy-armband, one could now maybe suggest that the Argentine FA would be within their rights to request permission for the AVEGUEMA emblem to be shown on black armbands.

There are many things one could say about FIFA, and they have rightly been criticised for many things recently, but there are times when FIFA have got something right. This time, they had got it absolutely spot-on..until agreement was reached to wear the poppy-armband. After all, the poppy appearing on the England shirt would be only the start. What next? Full-blown advertising?

Before anyone begins threatening to knock down the front-door, yes, Ireland's replica shirts are emblazoned with the logo of the FAI's main sponsor, but the shirt is left blank when the Boys in Green are on the field of play. There is already too much greed in the game of football, and to have something other than the national team's badge and the name of the kit-manufacturer on the average international football shirt would just relegate the item to the status of a domestic shirt. FIFA's decision to allow the wearing of a poppy-armband will doubtless see other associations clamour for the same rights as the FA, and it will eventually lead to the wearing of advertising during competitive international football matches. Poppygate will be just the beginning.

Not only that, but it would seem that the whole "wear the poppy on the shirt" thing has degenerated into a media stunt, and with all due respect to the fallen and maimed and to their loved ones (and no offence is meant to anyone here), it would also seem that the original meaning of wearing the poppy has been lost in recent times and a whole industry has been built up around its wearing. Add to that Twitter-power, which is, in other words, the power of knee-jerk reaction (not to mention Twitter being the haunt of the faceless), the media bandwagon plus what would appear to be the British Government's attempts to make everybody forget about the state of the UK economy, if only for a short while, and a veritable monster - Poppygate -was created.

And then there was the sight of two members of the English Defence League holding a rooftop protest at FIFA House in Zurich yesterday in opposition to FIFA's stance on poppies on shirts. The EDL is a far-right grouping whose founder was convicted of hooliganism after leading a riot involving 100 football fans in Luton this summer. The EDL members who took part in the rooftop protest in Zurich were arrested by Swiss police, and this incident is bound to prove embarrassing for the FA, due to the EDL's political stance and also because the FA's campaign to stamp out racism in football is still ongoing.

Back to the row over poppies on shirts. FIFA thought that they had got rid of that particular monster, but by allowing the wearing of the poppy-armband, they have merely fed the thing, which now has a name - Poppygate - and left it to sit in the corner. This article was due to end with a "well done" to FIFA for being positively consistent for once and ensuring that a potentially dangerous precedence is not set. Now, I'm not so sure; it will all eventually end in full-shirt advertising. It looks as though Sepp and Co have put their feet in it again, and this will only be made apparent in the long run.

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