Britain: Militarist hypocrisy over FIFA poppy ban

November 7, 2016
James McClean, the Irish midfielder who plays in the English Premier League, refuses to wear the poppy. He was born in British-occupied Derry, where 14 civilians were killed by British soldiers in the 1972 Bloody Sunday massacre.

FIFA, the world’s ruling body of football (soccer), has banned wearing poppies to mark the death of British soldiers in war, which has provoked a confected outrage by British media and politicians.

The football associations of England and Scotland intend to defy the ban in the two national teams’ match on Armistice Day on November 11. In the editorial below, British left-wing daily The Morning Star responds to the hypocrisy of those opposing FIFA’s ruling. ***

When politicians fly into a lather of confected rage, it is usually for reactionary reasons and British Prime Minister Theresa May’s faux-outrage over football’s governing body FIFA’s ban on wearing poppies is a prime example.

FIFA rules are clear that football teams may not display political, religious or commercial symbols on their kit.

“Our football players want to recognise and respect those who have given their lives for our safety and security,” May said in parliament. “I think it is absolutely right that they should be able to do so.”

That sweeping declaration is open to question because wearing a red poppy on a football shirt is not an ancient tradition under threat. The first football team to incorporate the poppy into players’ shirts was Leicester City as late as 2003.

All English Premiership sides followed suit by 2010, as have home nations’ representative sides, despite FIFA rules. Artificial red poppies were sold after World War I to raise funds for the British Legion, headed by Field Marshal Earl Douglas Haig, and set up the Haig Fund and Haig Homes to help distressed ex-servicemen.

Many former soldiers rejected these initiatives because of contempt for an incompetent top brass who favoured the tactic of sending troops to attack at walking pace into enemy machine-gun fire, which led to two million casualties among British empire forces.

Wearing poppies was widespread but, for decades, applied only on Armistice Day, November 11. It is now state-sponsored big business, with poppies sold for more than a month and forming part of a BBC dress code. They are required for politicians and others in the public eye.

The Royal British Legion insists the poppy is the “international symbol of remembrance,” which is arrant nonsense.

Were it so, ex-British PM David Cameron’s Beijing government hosts would not have requested, during his 2010 visit, that he remove his poppy as it reminded Chinese people of the 19th century opium wars waged against their country.

How many professional football players sporting poppy-emblazoned shirts do so of their own free will? Do those whose forebears suffered from the British empire’s brutal military might see the poppy as their own?

What if the independent states that won freedom from these empires chose to commemorate costly national liberation struggles on their team shirts?

West Bromwich Albion midfielder James McClean, born in British-occupied Derry in Ireland’s north, has been repeatedly abused for his principled refusal to wear a symbol associated with armed forces who shot dead 14 innocent men and boys in Derry in the 1972 Bloody Sunday massacre.

The poppy is not just for Word War I, but to mark other conflicts in which British soldiers took part. This includes Britain’s bloody Black and Tan war on Ireland early last century, all colonial conflicts and more recent shameful illegal aggressions against Iraq and Afghanistan.

Enforcing the wearing of a poppy through rules or moral pressure contradicts the claim of honouring soldiers whose sacrifices safeguarded liberties.

Let those who wish to wear their poppies with pride do so, but the insidious encroachment by state and institutional power to make it all but compulsory must end.

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