My Nan used to have many a saying. One of them she used to say a lot: You could choke on a fly and swallow an elephant.
Like a lot of my Nan’s phrases, you were never quite sure what she meant – at least until this week, when Fifa actually put that phrase into action.
On the face of it, it seems simple enough. England play Scotland next Friday and wanted to wear poppies on their shirts to commemorate Armistice Day the following day.
No problem there you would think, except FIFA decided there was and reminded the English and Scottish FA’s of their responsibilities under Rule 57.1 which says that “on all Playing Equipment items [which include jerseys] used on, or brought into (permanently or temporarily), the Pitch Area, for all Matches, any form of advertising… of political, religious, commercial, personal statements, images and/or other announcements, is strictly prohibited”.
You can see why they do this. Amid all the bluster, there is a certain logic to banning these statements – just as they have done previously with sanctioning Robbie Fowler when he supported striking Dockers for example, or today when Ireland have been hit with a fine for wearing an emblem showing the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising, and after all, where does this end?
If you look at it in isolation, it seems easy and logical to allow it but it is more complex than most people think. It is all part of the slippery slope argument – where do you draw the line for other countries and other causes?
What if Poland play Ukraine and both sides want to remember those who died in the numerous wars between them by wearing some symbol?
Whatever the counter arguments, there is a groundswell of support for letting the teams ear the emblem. Arsene Wenger became the latest figure to suggest the ban should be lifted and the Royal British Legion have written to FIFA.
In the Houses Of Parliament this week Theresa May said that “FIFA should get their own house in order” before telling us what we could or couldn’t wear. Certainly it does seem odd that an organisation that has proven to systemically corrupt over the last few years and seemingly allowed embezzlement on a quite incredible scale – and has had now to commit to root and branch reform to try and salvage its reputation as former top Executives are proven to be disgraced – should get quite so irate about a poppy on a shirt, which is probably what my Grandmother meant when she said people swallowed elephants and choked on fleas.
Draconian rules are all very well, but surely the most abiding principle at the heart of any edict should be one of common sense. Many – perhaps the majority – of the crowd will be wearing poppies. The players of England and Scotland should be allowed to do the same – but then, when did common sense and football governance ever exist in the same sentence.
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