THE BLOG
10/11/2011 19:06 GMT | Updated 10/01/2012 05:12 GMT

Was the FA's Row With FIFA Over the Poppy Ban an Own Goal?

England's complaint is that the poppy has no political connotations; but this doesn't really stand up to scrutiny. Ask an Iraqi, an Afghan, a German, an Argentine, or a national of any of the countries Britain has fought against since the Haig Fund was established and they may beg to differ.

Like many fellow Brits, I respect and admire those who have made the ultimate sacrifice in the many wars this country has fought. I put my money in the tin, make a donation to the Poppy Appeal and, throughout the week that it's on my jacket, I remember the dead - and the huge sacrifice they have made for my family and my country. I don't wear it every minute of the day but I don't need to. It's a personal gesture and a private decision.

What happened this week is really quite strange, given that the history of the Poppy Appeal goes back 90 years, and the fact that the regulations around playing kit laid out by football's governing body, FIFA, are pretty straightforward. The England team has taken part in dozens of fixtures close to Remembrance Sunday since the Haig Fund was established and has never seen fit to add anything to its shirts beyond the famous Three Lions crest and the kit-maker's logo.

This time, however, England decided to go big, and the English FA seemed assume that there would be no problem in doing so. The national anthem would be accompanied by wreath-laying, poppies on tracksuits, and then, as with the kits of many English Premier League teams for the past few seasons, a poppy would be printed on the playing shirts. This was a completely unilateral decision. The British Legion hadn't even asked for the poppy on the shirt, and there appeared to be little or no consideration of FIFA's regulations.

FIFA is not held in particularly high regard by the English media. The Federation's handling of the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bids has convinced many that it is corrupt to the core; and in spite of the protestations and promises from its President, Sepp Blatter, few believe it is capable of improving.

But despite this impression, FIFA is not completely bereft of principles; and perhaps more importantly, it also has quite clear guidelines. The organisation has to create a neutral arena in which national teams can compete, free from the influence or burden of politics. Creating a precedent that could be exploited to these ends in the future is a dangerous thing.

Of course, England's complaint is that the poppy has no political connotations; but this doesn't really stand up to scrutiny. Ask an Iraqi, an Afghan, a German, an Argentine, or a national of any of the countries Britain has fought against since the Haig Fund was established and they may beg to differ. The poppy appeal acknowledges the sacrifice of British soldiers, but the sacrifices made by others, fighting for other governments and other ideologies mean that politics inevitably colours the frame.

The English FA has never managed to understand or successfully manoeuvre its way through FIFA's sometimes clandestine political world. Its dismal failure in the last two World Cup bidding processes has underlined this. It may feel that it has, for once, achieved a victory on this particular battlefield. But its influence and standing in the global game, where it is seen by many - not just within FIFA - as bitter and Machiavellian, is unlikely to have been improved by mounting this latest assault.

Ultimately, in its war of attrition against Blatter and Co, the FA may have lost more allies than it has gained, and further sacrificed its own standing within the football world in a battle that it should perhaps have never fought in the first place.