Prince William Saves the Day: FIFA Lets English Soccer Players Wear Poppies

Wills persuades FIFA to let English soccer players wear poppies at a Remembrance Day match. By Tom Sykes.

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With a day job as a helicopter rescue pilot, plucking to safety imperiled mountain walkers and storm-tossed sailors, and an extracurricular schedule that involves single-handedly transforming the British monarchy from a clutch of moribund freeloaders to a posse of dynamic go-getters, it’s possible that Prince William gets used to being hailed as a hero.

But, even by the high standards of the British monarchy’s golden boy, William’s successful intervention into a row over whether the shirts of English soccer players competing against Spain this Saturday should be allowed to bear poppy symbols, to mark Remembrance Day—the British equivalent of Veterans Day, which falls on Sunday—has been little short of miraculous.

For William has done something no Englishman has ever done before—taken on the famously intransigent Federation of International Football Associations (FIFA) and won.

FIFA—which makes the work of the International Olympic Committee look transparent—had all this week stuck to its guns, insisting that the English soccer players could not wear poppies embroidered on their shirts in the games on Saturday because poppies, paper versions of which are given out in return for a charitable donation to the British veterans’ fund, constituted a “political message.”

FIFA bosses apparently feared setting a precedent lest England were ever to face Germany in a fixture around Remembrance Sunday.

Still, the national outrage that greeted FIFA’s ban was unsurprising; British soccer fans love their squaddies almost as much as they loathe FIFA, which they suspect of corruptly scotching their attempts to stage the 2018 World Cup in favor of Russia. The subject was even raised on the floor of the House of Commons, where Prime Minister David Cameron stated that the FIFA poppy ban was an, “appalling decision.” The usually circumspect Cameron later encouraged the players to wear the poppies anyway, in defiance of FIFA’s ban.

FIFA made it clear that it couldn’t care less, acting according to the celebrated old Millwall football club chant: “Everybody hates us and we don’t care.”

In a “final statement” issued Wednesday, FIFA rejected the Football Association’s request, saying: “We regret to inform you that accepting such initiatives would open the door to similar initiatives from all over the world, jeopardizing the neutrality of football. Therefore, we confirm herewith that the suggested embroidery on the match shirt cannot be authorized.”

Case closed? Not quite. For, enter stage right, amidst a whir of helicopter blades and a blast of dry ice, a “livid” Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, who just happens to be president of the British Football Association. He wrote to FIFA asking for, “an exception in this special circumstance.”

Further contents of the letter were not revealed, but a spokesman for William said: “The duke has written to FIFA in his capacity as president of the FA to express his dismay at their decision. The duke’s strong view is that the poppy is a universal symbol of remembrance, which has no political, religious or commercial connotations.”

Yes, dismay. If you’re a royal, that’s fighting talk.

And William’s intervention apparently did the trick. Although the FA had made two formal representations to FIFA that were ignored, amazingly, shortly after 9 p.m., FIFA rolled over, agreeing to let the players wear armbands bearing poppy symbols.

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Whether it is sleeping rough in sub-zero temperatures with London’s down-and-outs, making parachute jumps, or walking down the aisle with the girl next door on his arm, adult life sometimes seems to have been one long PR triumph for William, and this latest episode is no exception.

Now, can’t we just persuade him to make a flying visit to Signor Berlusconi and fix the Eurozone debt crisis?

All in a day’s work for the People’s Prince.