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A load of poppycock: Fifa insults us (again) by refusing our right to honour war dead

It is vital the UK’s national teams defy sanctimonious Fifa officials and wear poppies on their shirts in World Cup qualifiers

PUBLISHED : Friday, 04 November, 2016, 2:26pm
UPDATED : Friday, 04 November, 2016, 9:42pm

When these words “May their martyred souls be immortal and their noble spirits endure” were added to the Cenotaph in Hong Kong’s Statue Squarein the 1970s to commemorate those who lost their lives during the Japanese invasion, were they chiselled into the granite as a political statement or as an act of remembrance?

A similar question is boiling angrily away as the English, Welsh, Northern Irish and Scottish FAs prepare to defy Fifa and wear poppies on their shirts in World Cup qualifiers on Armistice Day (November 11) and on the UK’s annual Remembrance Sunday.

If they do (and surely they must) they will contravene Fifa regulations and as a result be deducted points.

Fifa is refusing to exempt poppies from world football’s Law 4, which forbids political, religious or commercial symbols on international shirts.

For many Britons, wearing a poppy is a crucial part of our heritage, as well as a way to pay respects to the many soldiers, who gave their lives and limbs, and their relatives.

The year 2016 is poignant, too, because a century ago the bloodiest war in history was raging. Indeed, 100 years ago this week, the first recruits from the Chinese Labour Corps set sail from the then named Weihaiwei in Shandong province for the European battle fronts to help defend against a tyrannical threat.

Yes, wars are political acts or, more to the point, the violent consequence of the failure of politics, as are rebellions and coups.

But is remembering them, as the Ireland national team did this year when they wore shirts to mark the centenary of the Easter Uprising against the colonising Brits, apolitical too?

Absolutely not. The high sanctimony of Fifa, expressed bysecretary-general Fatma Samoura, is an insult to those who wish to remember those who perished in conflict to defend our freedoms.

Never mind that Fifa is happy to promote political messages when it feels like it. Its website carries a video featuring players holding up a sign declaring “Say no to racism”, a political message we all back.

And in awarding the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to corrupt, homophobic misogynistic Russia and Qatar, Fifa surely sent out very clear political messages, not least to the LGBT community and anyone who believes in the rule of law and open government, media freedom, fairness and democracy.

Rules are rules and must be obeyed. But here Fifa has abused and bent – misinterpreted, if you must – its own laws to fit the perverted liberal thinking and twisted values that have corroded common sense and dignity over the past decade in many of our institutions.

It is therefore vital that the UK’s national teams do not succumb to Fifa’s ill-informed rulings by self-important officials. To do so would move us on to dangerous ground because we would be seen to agree and accept that honouring our war dead is a political act, and not the civic or even emotional statement that it truly is.

Remembrance is a human necessity. We must never forget those who died in the horrors of war. It is not only right, it unites many of us in our firm belief that armed conflict must be avoided at all cost but waged willingly if freedom is in peril.

If it wishes to endear, then Fifa should order each year on Armistice Day a game between former enemies wearing poppy-infested shirts.

During Christmas 1914, English and German troops emerged from trenches during a rare truce and played football. Men who were minutes before trying to kill each other and who could not otherwise communicate, shared a common language in the game.

“After a short while somebody punted across a football,” one British subaltern recalled. “The ball landed amongst the Germans and they immediately kicked it back at our men … it was a melêe. It wasn’t a question of 10-a-side, it was a question of 70 Germans against 50 Englishmen.”

That scenario was repeated all along the front line.

Were these matches political acts? Is remembering the men who played in them and then died, a political crime?

One thing we shall always remember, however, is Fifa’s war on decency – its barrages of insult on the rule of law, transparency, respect and dignity over all these years, criminal acts that nearly killed the game.