FIFA Poppies and Us,
Gabriel C Banda
THE current standoff involving FIFA on one side, and players and football associations of England and Scotland on the other, over pinning the Remembrance Day poppy at the November 11, 2016 World Cup qualifier gives us much thought.
Players of England and Scotland want to wear the Poppy as part of Remembrance. But FIFA, the earth’s soccer governing body, has banned wearing of the Poppy, declaring it a political symbol, in that match. Previously, in a friendly against Spain, FIFA allowed England players to wear the Poppy.
Now, surely, here there must be some misunderstanding or lack of knowledge about the history, purpose, spirit, and atmosphere of Remembrance Day.
The Poppy flower leads to Remembrance Day or Remembrance Sunday. In Zambia, as in other places, as each November starts, there is active thought and preparation towards Remembrance Day.
Remembrance Day is a worldwide event now publicly observed in Zambia, the Commonwealth, and other places on the Second Sunday of the Eleventh Month of the year.
Originally, this was timed for the Eleventh Hour, local time, of the Eleventh Day, of the Eleventh month. That, 11th November, was Armistice Day. Armistice Day was first observed in England in November 1919 to mark the ending of World War I hostilities.
In 2016, this is the day on which the England and Scotland soccer match is falling.
Now, worldwide, the practice is to observe Remembrance Day on the Second Sunday of the Eleventh Month, still at the Eleventh Hour of that Day. This year, it is publicly observed on Sunday, November 13, 2016.
It is becoming common now that, as the month of November starts, persons, men and women, and even youths, in various roles of life, are seen with a red and black poppy flower on them. They are of various skin colour, cultures, and nationalities.
Some elders who served during the Second World War or at some point served afterwards wear them. Some family members of those who fought in World War II but are no longer alive have their surviving family members spot the Poppy.
Some persons currently serving in the armed forces will also have them on their military or civilian clothing.
Some government workers wear the Poppy. Some heads of state, such as Zambia’s President Edgar Lungu, has it on during this time.
In some big stores, I have seen some young men and young women working on the check-out till with some poppy on their shirt or jacket.
In the towns of Zambia, November spots many persons with the poppies. We also see persons from various political parties spotting the Poppy. The Poppy flower is also sold to get donations toward the welfare of veterans.
Remembrance Day, and its symbols that include the Poppy, is a sacred and uniting event.
The main remembrance event takes place on the Second Sunday of November. In Zambia, there is wreath laying at some Cenotaph monuments in various towns.
In Zambia, the head of state, the president, officiates. It is a solemn occasion, with solemn music by military bands. There are prayers of remembrance. Chaplains of the armed forces read prayers and verses. Silence by all, and a bugle is played at the 11th hour.
But the President does not address the gathering. The President will place a wreath, followed by heads of the armed forces, former World War II soldiers, diplomats accredited to the country, and boy Scouts and Girl Guides.
Stepping off the dais, the President will move over to where the World War veterans and their families are lined up and greet them individually. These days, slightly over seventy years after the ending of World War II in 1945, the veterans are getting less.
The atmosphere of the observance is not victory, but remembrance of those who passed away as a result of the World Wars. In fact, it is about loss in war, not only World War II, but other wars in times and places. The spirit of Remembrance Day is about the sadness of war, and about avoiding war. It is about humanity as one family.
In Zambia, when it is observed on that Sunday, one can see the diplomatic representatives of not only Britain, the Commonwealth, America, and France, but also those of Germany and Japan, who fought against the allies. The ambassadors of Germany and Japan do not protest the event as humiliating them.
At the Remembrance ceremony, there is appreciation and compassion. The Remembrance Ceremony is about humanity as a whole, about high values humanity must aspire to.
Each November, I have tried to attend Remembrance Day. There, on that Second Sunday, I can meet those who were in World War II. As with many other persons, some of my relatives and neighbours were in World War II. Many persons of Africa served in the World War, transforming the lives, history, and later generations of Africa and other places.
When I go to Remembrance Day, I also see others who served in the Zambia military or the militaries of other governments after World War II. Their experiences may have involved other wars besides World War II.
Being a conscript in the Zambia military in the1970s, Remembrance Day is also opportunity for some of us to remember our experiences in the military, and consider the broader picture of war and military action in humanity. Many who have served in the military do not like war.
I feel moved when World War II veteran, Mr Aaron Katongo, for decades an active organiser in Zambia’s veterans’ league, has pinned a Poppy on me.
When I have been to England around the time of Remembrance Day and the Poppies, I go to places of Remembrance. When I lived in Dublin, Ireland, I visited the Garden of Remembrance a few times.
In wearing the Poppy, and in Remembrance Day, there is no humiliation of other persons. There is no victor and vanquished. It is about appreciating humanity, wherever we are from. It is about appreciating Life Itself, and the Integrity of Life.
Remembrance Day is not an English, Scottish, or Commonwealth pride day. It is about humanity and humanity’s deep experiences.
At the plaque at the Lusaka Cenotaph where Remembrance Sunday takes place, there are these deep words, very useful for each member of humanity, wherever we are: “That we, surely trusting in thy defence, may not fear the power of any adversaries.”
FIFA and symbols
FIFA General Secretary, our Sister Fatma Samba Diouf Samoura, in discouraging the wearing of poppies at the November 11 2016 match, says that there are other wars elsewhere, in Syria and on her native African continent, that are not being observed as Remembrance Day is.
The comparison is not accurate or fair. Remembrance Day IS observed in Africa, and deeply too. Remembrance Day remembers Africa’s big deep role in World War. In my observation, Remembrance Day is not a victory pride rally of one nation against another.
In the case of the England and Scotland soccer match, there would be no animosity arising if members of both teams voluntarily wear the Poppy.
One can similarly note the recent FIFA ruling against Ireland’s team for wearing symbols dealing with the national observation of the 100th year, in 1916, after the Irish uprising against British rule.
The symbols might be sensitive when the teams playing each other are those of Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. Thus, where there is no hostility amongst teams involved, FIFA should allow non-political symbols as Remembrance Day and its Poppy.
For many of us all over the world, Remembrance Day is about appreciation of Life and its eternal depth and marvel.
GCB, November 2016, LUSAKA.