A long-time reader reports on a politically-charged controversy from the world of international soccer
Today, England and Spain will play a “friendly” soccer match (i.e., one that doesn’t count in any standings) at Wembley Stadium in London. Spain will be favored because (a) it is the best national side in soccer and (b) nearly all of England’s top players are, for various reasons, not playing today. The list includes Wayne Rooney, Steven Gerrard, John Terry, Rio Ferdinand, and Ashley Young.
A match at Wembley against the world champions should be a big deal in its own right. However, much of the focus in England this week has been on the question of whether the English team will wear red poppies on their uniform in honor of Remembrance Day (England’s commemoration of the end of World War I). The English players were set to wear a red poppy embroidered on their shirts until FIFA – the corrupt international soccer bureaucracy that hates England for (at a minimum) blowing the whistle on its corruption – informed England’s Football Association (the FA) that this would not do. FIFA’s explanation? The red poppy is a political statement.
The red poppy has become a target of the left. In Canada, for example, leftists have pushed for the wearing of white poppies, rather than red ones. They view the former as a symbol of peace and the latter as a symbol of war. It is unclear whether, or to what extent, FIFA’s decision was colored by leftism, dislike of England, or a desire not to offend Germany. In any event, the decision was inane. There’s nothing unduly “political” about honoring a nation’s war dead. Moreover, international football cannot be completely divorced from politics and from nationalism. Just listen to some of the national anthems, the singing of which before the matches is at the center of the spectacle. It doesn’t get much more political, or martial, than the La Marseillaise, for example.
Fortunately, the FA didn’t back down on the core issue of displaying the red poppy. Instead, a compromise was reached. England will be permitted to wear red poppies on the black armbands that FIFA (in its largesse) previously permitted for the match. FIFA’s deplorable president, Sepp Blatter, nearly torpedoed the deal at the last minute, but it held.
Had it not held – and this may be the best news of all – there is a question as to whether England’s players would have adhered to FIFA’s ruling. England’s stand-in captain, the great Frank Lampard, has said that if wearing the red poppies had been banned, the players “would have sat down and had a good think about it because I know how proud we are to play and what an important day Remembrance Day is.”
As players we do a lot of work with the military boys and, if we were to be running out and not showing our respects, we would be letting them down. It is something the players felt very strongly about. I’m very proud of the freedoms we have and why we have got them. To live the life we live is due to the people who fought and died in wars. We should never forget that. I went to my daughters’ school assembly earlier this week and the headmaster was telling all the kids, at a very diverse school with kids from all over the world, what it means to wear a poppy. I came away feeling quite proud that is what we teach our kids.
Lampard may be too sanguine about what is being taught to his (and our) kids. But this week, he and his teammates, along with the English FA, have taught a lesson worthy of Remembrance Day.
UPDATE: The match is in the books now. Spain bossed the proceedings, but England rode its luck to a 1-0 victory over the reigning world and European champions. Frank Lampard, England’s patriotic captain, scored the only goal.
As for red poppies, they were on dispaly all over Wembley Stadium, including on the English players’ armbands, their warmup sweaters, and the blazer of England’s Italian coach, Fabio Capello.