A row between Theresa May, the UK prime minister, and FIFA over the latter’s refusal to allow players to wear poppies has prompted an outpouring of cynicism online.
British Twitter users are bemoaning what they say has become an annual controversy surrounding the symbolic flower, which is worn to commemorate those who fell in war in the run-up to Remembrance Day on November 11.
On Wednesday, May called FIFA “utterly outrageous” after it banned footballers from wearing the poppy during a forthcoming World Cup qualifying match between Scotland and England.
“Our football players want to recognise and respect those who have given their lives for our safety and security,” May said.
“I think a clear message is going from this House [parliament] that we want our players to be able to wear poppies.”
FIFA stance condemned
May’s comments came after angry headlines in British papers condemned FIFA’s stance.
This year, alongside the traditional anti-poppy and pro-poppy faultlines, many Britons have been posting sarcastic and sardonic tweets to highlight how “predictable” the issue has become.
“The now annual poppy outrage should be a public holiday,” wrote one user.
Another said: “Middle-aged white Brits are angry on Facebook must be poppy season.”
Ian Dunt, a journalist, wrote: “They can take poppies off, put on their kit, run around a pitch for 90 mins, then put them back on and remember for the rest of the day.”
The satirical website News Thump lampooned the anger opponents of the poppy faced with an article titled “People wearing poppies with leaf at wrong angle could face death penalty”.
Others took on an earnest tone, pointing out the pettiness of discussing the wearing of poppies while there were more important issues facing English football, and society generally.
“Lol imagine if the FA acted as strenuously against FIFA on problems like endemic homophobia and racism as they do on wearing a poppy,” said artist Huw Lemmey.
May’s attack on FIFA is the latest in a long line of poppy-related controversies.
The poppy is a mark of respect. The FA should defy Fifa, pay the fine, put poppies on #eng shirts and auction them for British Legion. 1/2
— Henry Winter (@henrywinter) November 2, 2016
Last year, Irish footballer James McClean was the subject of tabloid anger for refusing to wear the poppy on his shirt, citing historic British conduct in his native Northern Ireland.
In 2014, members of the British Muslim community were divided over the release of a headscarf emblazoned with the flower.
Earlier controversies involved members of the Celtic supporters group, the Green Brigade, unveiling an anti-poppy banner at a match after the Scottish club decided to include the image on its players’ shirts.
“Your deeds would shame all the devils in Hell. Ireland, Iraq, Afghanistan. No bloodstained poppy on our Hoops,” the banner unfurled by supporters of the Irish-rooted club read.
‘Old and imperial wars’
News anchors, such as Channel 4’s Jon Snow, have also attracted controversy for refusing to wear the symbol.
Dr Katy Sian, a lecturer in sociology at the University of York, told Al Jazeera sections of the British establishment have incorrectly tried to equate reluctance to wear poppies with opposition to British values.
“It continues to vex politicians and sections of the media when high-profile figures are seen not to be wearing the poppy on Remembrance Day, with accusations that they are in opposition to Britain,” Sian told Al Jazeera.
“There are a number of reasons why some do not wear the poppy; in the case of the footballers, FIFA prohibit political, religious, or commercial messages on shirts.
“For others the poppy is both representative and symbolic of old and new imperial wars.
“The decision not to partake in jingoistic displays of allegiance is therefore less about a deep hatred of Britain and more about a resistance to crude nationalism, racism, colonialism, and the nature of past and current global conflicts.
“Of course for some it might be more simple – they just don’t want to wear it.”