Friday, 18 November 2016

Match Report: Sport vs Politics vs Memory vs England vs Scotland

I support Scotland and a Scottish club team, even though I was born and raised in England and why don’t I support England then blah blah blah (forgive the dismissive attitude; it’s just that I’ve spent 67% of my life having that argument and don’t feel like going over it again, since no one has said anything new about since 1986 and my responses all amount to the same one: what’s it to ya?  (Politics, innit.))
Anyway, to the matter in hand: England playing Scotland in a World Cup qualifier on Armistice Day.
A poppy is merely a symbol of remembrance.  A minute’s silence is only a gesture.  And symbols and gestures aren’t political, are they…?  How could they be?  Ask the England team that played against Germany in Berlin in 1938…

Naturally, those awful foreign football bureaucrats stopping Our British Footballers remembering Our Heroic War Dead as part of Our festival of remembering what happened to facilitate doing it repeatedly on a smaller scale, caused outrage.  Not because we keep doing the same violent things again and again, and then remembering it by pretending it was all necessary, but because we weren’t allowed to put a symbol of this nonsense on a football shirt.  As a particularly annoying contributor to a radio news report put it: “It’s not political, it’s a simple act of remembrance.”
The Armistice Day commemorations began in 1919 to commemorate the dead of the First World War, a tawdry affair most of us think of as a way for powerful elites to decide who would dominate Europe, by throwing in front of guns those useless bags of meat known as Ordinary People – or perhaps, if you’re politically inclined, the Working Classes.  The Bewildered Herd.  Michael Gove revealed a strange revisionist enthusiasm for that slaughter when he was Education Secretary.  I wonder why he’s so unpopular with The Herd. 
Anyway, there’s obviously nothing political about all that. 
The Nazis remembered the German war dead of World War I in a Day of Commemoration of Heroes (Heldengedenktag, auf Deutsch) which helped them generate poltiical capital out of the humiliation of the Versailles treaty, and a promise to Make Germany Great Again.
But it’s not Political, it’s a simple act of Remembrance.
In line with their stated policy of not allowing politics on a football shirt, FIFA recently punished the Irish FA, after they added a reference to the Easter Rising centenary in a match earlier this year.  The Easter Rising in 1916 was a rebellion against British rule in Ireland, when soldiers from the British empire were fighting in ‘The Great War’ (including Irish soldiers).
But it’s not Political, it’s a simple act of Remembrance.
The Armenian Genocide is remembered by Armenia, the Armenian diaspora and others; it is not, and never has been, fully recognised by Turkey, whose Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said of the 1915 genocide:
“The Armenian diaspora is making its preparations to turn the events of 1915 into a political campaign by [distorting] the historical reality. In contrast to this political campaign, we will firmly stand against them by highlighting historical and scientific data.”
But it’s not Political, it’s a simple act of Remembrance.
In Israel/Palestine, one side celebrates Independence Day, while the other side commemorates the same events as a catastrophe (“nakba/nakbeh”, in Arabic).
But it’s not Political, it’s a simple act of Remembrance.
FIFA,  presumably pretty happy to focus on this overblown non-story, (following a few years spent denying being the most corrupt organisation on the planet and hoping that whole thing will just go away) have a rule about national teams not wearing any political or commercial messages on their kits.  The FA wanted England to wear shirts with poppies on them, to show everyone that they care.
The FA would dearly love to do something popularly uncontroversial, not having enjoyed the best reputation recently.  Whether poppies are allowed on shirts, whether poppies are political, might be an easier win than trying to convince everyone that they’re not corrupt and that it’s FIFA that are the bad guys and they’ve known that all along, although they only started saying it out loud after England’s latest World Cup bid was rejected.
But it’s not Political, it’s a simple act of Remembrance.
The Scottish FA also wanted their representatives to wear poppies on their horrible pink shirts, because they mostly copy whatever the FA does, but worse.  And also doing its best not to talk about colluding in breaking rules to allow a Scottish club team to register for European football and generally ruining the Scottish league to benefit one particular club. 
But it’s not Political, it’s a simple act of Remembrance.
The political row about poppies on shirts was deemed important enough for the prime minister to pass comment in parliament – an unpopular, unelected prime minister deflecting attention from her own nefarious machinations by commenting on something that’s of no real importance and outside her remit.
But it’s not Political, it’s a simple act of Remembrance.
“Political” is not a slur, or a curse.  It’s a way of looking at all human interaction.  The institution of marriage is political – including,  but not limited to – who can get married, where and how; that doesn’t make it distasteful (it’s the overuse of flowers and all the drunk relatives that makes it distasteful, isn’t it?)
Part of this whole (manufactured) controversy is another attempt to separate sport and politics; which is as impossible as it would be undesirable.  The same goes for separating remembering the war dead from remembering the reasons they died and trying to make a world in which that shit doesn’t happen again; lest we forget.
What we remember and why we remember it and the way we remember it is entirely Political.
Besides which: separating politics and sport would be as helpful as separating arms from the torso.  It would be as likely as separating football from petty provincial rivalry.  Or separating politics from bullshit posturing, or from ethical compromise. 
But it also reinforces the idea that Politics is this discrete process that happens elsewhere – carried out by professionals.  An ugly business that we are better staying out of, because it’s intrinsically bad – and nothing we can do anything about.  This view is shared by everyone on TV and radio and in the papers, and apart from being completely wrong in every sense, it’s a fair enough view.  The reason this view is pernicious, and so damaging, is because it invites us all to consider politics none of our business.  We being the “bewildered herd”, the ones who wear poppies and like football.  Because every aspect of how our collective, public lives are run is none of our business.  It’s just boring old Politics. 
Sport is our business, we can have that.  Remembrance, maybe, as far as it can be considered apolitical, somehow.  But Politics is an industry we need to be kept out of – just shut up about it, it’s nothing to do with you, you stupid plebs/troublemaking weirdos/uppity women etc. 
The FA and the SFA shouted about the rules, called them ridiculous, declared they would defy them….and then bottled it.  In a compromise, the players wore armbands with poppies on – just like last time England played on Armistice Day, when it wasn’t particularly controversial, for some reason.  Maybe those were saner times. 
Still, it did take the FA’s problem with (alleged endemic) corruption, and helped the media continue to ignore the rotten stench at the heart of Scottish football.  And it gave the prime minister something to talk about other than how she intends to pursue a contentious policy she campaigned against.  And helped the papers continue to ignore the fact that theirs is a dead medium, while they retreat even further into their sensationalist, unsubstantiated controversy fetish.
So, you know, mission accomplished.  Since when someone waves a flag, we all have to stop what we’re doing and salute it.  (Even if what we were doing was more important.)  It’s a pretty good way to obscure what’s really going on.  Or, to use a well-worn phrase, to “bury bad news.”
But it’s not political, it’s a simple act of Remembrance.
In the end, England won the game 3-0.
I won’t need reminding of that any time soon, thanks.

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