Both Guardiola and the FA should practise what they preach

The FA may argue that the poppy is not a political statement, but surely if it forces a player into a corner where he feels he cannot support it, it must have political leanings.

Pep Guardiola as manager of Barcelona. Photo Credit: Tsutomu Takasu

One of the most talked about stories this week in the world of football was the disagreement between Manchester City manager, Pep Guardiola, and the Football Association (FA), particularly their chairman, Martin Glenn. The mastermind behind the Tiki-Taka style of play has been wearing a yellow ribbon on his jacket during City’s matches. It was last spotted during the 3-0 League Cup Final victory against Arsenal, the Catalans first trophy of his tenure.

Since then, Guardiola has been forced to stop wearing the yellow ribbon symbolising his solidarity for his fellow imprisoned Catalans fighting for independence from Spain. He also has been issued a £20,000 fine for his actions. Guardiola argues that the ribbon is not political and does not support the fight for independence. It merely supports the Catalan leaders right to a fair trial before imprisonment.

The current rule set out with the FA is that no political messages can be worn on the shirts of players and managers. Martin Glenn, the Chairman of the FA, has compared the yellow ribbon to a swastika, a star of David, and an ISIS badge. The FA, and Glenn in particular, has come under a lot of scrutiny during this process. His comments seem to be completely out of touch with reality; however, many have accused Guardiola of being out of touch with reality as well. The hypocrisy on both sides on this issue is damning and people have found it quite simple to poke holes in both sides arguments.

The exception the FA make every year for the Remembrance Poppy is the hypocrisy on their side. The poppy is a symbol of all the lost soldiers during wars fighting for Great Britain. The poppy appears in John McCrae’s poem “In Flanders’ Fields” and has been synonymous with war ever since. The flower is sewn into the shirts of all football teams playing in FA competitions on the weekend of Remembrance Sunday in November each year.

Republic of Ireland star and proud republican, James McClean, has refused to wear the poppy on his jersey every year since his move to England in 2011. McClean, then playing with Sunderland, has received a torrent of online abuse because of this. In McClean’s opinion, this symbol is a highly charged political statement with plenty of history for him. A proud Derryman, the West Brom winger refuses to wear the poppy because of the six killed on Bloody Sunday in his hometown in 1972.

Although Bloody Sunday occurred 17 years before McClean was born, the message still has a political meaning to him. McClean has had to deal with abuse from his former chairman, Dave Whelan, at Wigan for not wearing the poppy. This forced McClean to break his silence and pen an open letter to Whelan, explaining how if the poppy just symbolised World War One and World War Two, he would wear it. However, the Poppy remembers all those who died for Britain and this includes soldiers who committed the atrocities in his hometown of Creggan, Derry.

The FA may argue that the poppy is not a political statement, but surely if it forces a player into a corner where he feels he cannot support it, it must have political leanings. Guardiola may have decided to stop wearing the ribbon, but will the FA’s hypocrisy continue with the poppy – a politically charged symbol which has plenty of meaning for any nationalist in Northern Ireland?

The hypocrisy does not stop there in this saga. Guardiola originally stated in his defence that the ribbon was not to do with Catalan independence. It was merely to show support for “four people who are in jail when they didn’t do absolutely anything to be in jail for”. This is a fair argument – it is within those people’s democratic rights to want independence from Spain and they should be able to vocalise this and vote on it. Guardiola, although he has given speeches at Catalonian independence rallies previously, is merely stating that he supports this democratic right.

However, if Guardiola’s conscience is pecking at him regarding human rights, he may want to look at the people who pay his £15 million a year salary. Sheikh Mansour is the owner of Manchester City. Since his takeover in 2008, City have become one of the richest clubs in the world and have won the Premier League twice. Barring any exceptionally late slip ups, this incredible City team should win their third title under Mansour this season. They have been hailed as one of the greatest teams the league has ever seen and Guardiola has no small part to play in this.

However, this season has not only exposed us to the greatest team the blue side of Manchester has produced, but also to the actions of their owners outside of football. Mansour is the half brother of Sheikh Khalifa, the absolute monarch of the United Arab Emirates. Mansour himself holds positions within in the government alongside his family members. It is in effect a dictatorship. The democratic rights of citizens are definitely not respected, and the four Catalans in prison that Guardiola is defending would be lucky to escape the death penalty if Spain was run by his employers. Amnesty International has stated that UAE regularly practices torture on those imprisoned in the country.

Voting rights are heavily restricted and a small group of families choose 50% of the positions in the 40 member governmental panel. Often, positions are passed down from father to son. The other 50% of positions are voted on by a group of people selected by those families, Mansour’s family being one, and seemingly having the biggest influence. The panel rarely go against the Sheikh’s wishes and he therefore maintains power.

The Catalan has also been asked questions regarding his ambassador role for the Qatar 2022 World Cup, a country not too far from Mansour’s home country, the UAE. Qatar has imposed many laws restricting the rights of the labourers working on the stadia for 2022. Many have called for Qatar to be stripped of the World Cup due to this. The desire to promote football across the world may be cited as the reason to give Qatar the World Cup, but it has seemingly only caused more human rights violations.

Guardiola may be standing up for an admirable cause in his home state. However, just like the FA fell into the hypocrisy trap in his situation, Guardiola has done the same. Maybe it is true that football and politics just aren’t compatible. But, if we are truly to claim it is the beautiful game, we must ask these important questions.