3 Nov 2016

FIFA’s PR own goal

Richard Merrin – Managing Director at Spreckley

As I was walking out of Warren Street tube this morning I was met with the sight of five people in military uniform.  Many of you will have no doubt seen the men and women of our armed forces this week giving up their time to sell that unique symbol of Remembrance – the Poppy.

What struck me was the juxtaposition of these brave individuals with the front page of Metro announcing that the teams of England and Scotland will ignore FIFA and its decision that the teams should not wear the Poppy at forthcoming match being held on Armistice Day itself.

Speaking to one of the veterans selling the Poppies – medals on his chest worn with evident pride – I asked him if he was a football supporter. Too right he was – Arsenal all his life, looking forward to the match with Scotland and livid, absolutely livid at what he saw as overarching self importance by FIFA that was an insult to his fallen comrades.

And there lies the communications rub.

In one fell swoop, FIFA has managed to achieve the almost impossible. Not only did we see a united House of Commons with MPs of all hues falling behind PM Theresa May as she condemned FIFA in no uncertain terms. But it also united English and Scottish MPs in a way we have not seen before in this Parliament and has united two hugely rival national squads and their loyal army of fans.

But what FIFA has failed to recognise – or is simply too arrogant that it thinks it is more important and powerful than a national government – is that it also attempted to do exactly what FIFA was claiming the Poppy was – a politicised State symbol.

It is not, it never has been, and it should never be one.

The legacy of this distasteful argument is however not about what the Poppy stands for, whether or not the players should wear it on the 11th November match.

It has bought back into the public consciousness the role and record of FIFA. This is not the place to drag up the allegations of corruption, but at a time when the world is looking closely at whether world football can ever get its house back in order, FIFA should not be embroiling itself it yet more political and media hot water.

It instead should look to the history books and recognise the role football had in World War One when the British and Germans stopped fighting on Christmas Day and simply played a game of football.

So my message to FIFA: when in a hole stop digging, because this was a PR own goal on a monumental level.