Rob Atkinson: Fifa is wrong to stop England footballers wearing poppies

Not for the first time, I'm a bit annoyed with FIFA, world football's governing body.

Tuesday, 8th November 2016, 9:38 am
Updated Wednesday, 16th November 2016, 4:23 pm
Date: 7th November 2016. Picture James Hardisty. Thirsk Yarnbombers have been stringing thousands of knitted poppies around Thirsk, for the run up to Remembrance Day including a large draped display on the side of St Mary's Church, Thirsk. Pictured A sample of the thousands on poppies on display.

It’s never exactly been my favourite organisation, what with all the tales of bungs, brown envelopes and such. But now it’s striking at the very heart of an institution many of us hold dear.

In its wisdom, for want of a more appropriate word, FIFA has decided that the English and Scottish football teams, due to meet at Wembley on Armistice Day itself, should not wear the poppy insignia. They say it’s a political or religious gesture and inappropriate in a sporting context. Honestly, what utter piffle.

Like so many in the Five Towns, and further afield across the country, I have old soldiers in my ancestry. I had a grandfather in the First World War, and various others in my family tree have taken up arms on behalf of their country over the past couple of centuries. Whatever I, or anyone else, might think about the politics or issues of faith behind these wars, the fact is that they happened.

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They did a lot, for good or ill, to shape our world today, and it all came at a terrible human cost. It’s that awful loss we commemorate when we buy and wear our poppies. We remember the dead who paid the ultimate price to preserve our freedom - and we willingly give a little to help support those still affected by the ravages of war.

This is not a political statement, nor yet a religious one. People of all shades of opinion, believers and non-believers alike, will wear the poppy to show they’re aware of the sacrifice of those who died and those who lived on disabled by injury. As for those who choose not to wear the poppy; they’re from all areas of the political spectrum too, devout churchgoers or otherwise.

Either way, it’s a matter of conscience, respect and individual choice; and so it should be. For FIFA to barge in and presume to dictate to the two oldest Football Associations in the world is deeply inappropriate and the product of flawed thinking.

When I wear a poppy at this time of year, it has nothing to do with politics and there are no religious overtones; personally, I’m thinking of Granddad Atkinson, and what he must have gone through a century ago. Why should FIFA tell me, or anyone else, what our reasons are?

It does look as though both the English and Scottish powers that be are taking a stand against this FIFA edict, with the players wearing black armbands embossed with the poppy. Good for them; may they stand resolutely firm on what is a matter of principle.

For the want of a bit of common sense and sensitivity on FIFA’s part, this really shouldn’t be an issue at all – much less one that threatens to overshadow the occasion of England versus Scotland; an all too rare meeting of the oldest opponents in the game.

But the governing body doesn’t really do common sense, and their officials don’t come across as people who like to go unheeded.

So if either the FA or the SFA, or preferably both, can find it within themselves to tell FIFA to put its own house in order before presuming to interfere in matters of conscience, tradition and respect, then I for one will heartily applaud them.