What a load of poppycock from Fifa!

November 11, 2011, 23 Comments

Today is Remembrance Day in many countries. But Switzerland has no Remembrance Day as it has nothing to remember. As I explained in this post last November, the only poppies you see here are the few worn by English-speaking expats like me, and those of us who wear them with pride have spent the last two weeks explaining what it means. Very few Swiss people realise the significance of the little red flower, so perhaps it’s no surprise that this week Fifa tried to ban English footballers from wearing poppies on their shirts at an international match: the HQ of world football is in Zurich and run by Sepp Blatter as his own Swiss empire. Given that Switzerland stayed on the sidelines throughout the 20th century, it was clearly too much to expect Fifa to understand the meaning behind the poppy.

Of course, it was all about sticking to the rules, which state that players’ shirts can’t show any religious, political or commercial messages. Wearing a poppy would ‘jeopardise the neutrality of football’. What poppycock! And what a very Swiss phrase – although Fifa is only based in Zurich for tax reasons (ie, probably avoiding as much of it as possible) rather than because it is particularly Swiss in origin. Funny that Fifa itself isn’t very neutral when it comes to deciding where to place a World Cup and certainly isn’t un-commercial: in 2007-10, its revenue was $4.2 billion with a $631 million profit. So it seems it’s one rule for the players, another for the bosses. How sad. Even though a compromise has now been found (players wearing poppies on black armbands), I wonder if Fifa merely recognised its own-goal and failed to realise how disrespectful it appeared. Maybe not, as it seems to forget that outside its plush ivory tower in Zurich, there is a world that remembers what happened 97 years ago.

Despite the lack of poppies, and the lack of understanding, I have finally discovered a war memorial in Switzerland from after the Napoleonic era. It’s only taken me six years! Tucked away up on a hill behind the station in Montreux is an obelisk (shown above and right), dedicated to the soldiers of the town who died for their country 1914-18. I have no idea where they fought or why, but it is the first such memorial I have ever seen here. I doubt there are many others. For many Swiss people today is not about wars they never fought in but it’s about the start of carnival. At 11.11, just as half of Europe is getting back to normal after the two minutes’ silence, the bands will start and the party will begin. It’s the same in those parts of Germany where carnival celebration also takes precedence over commemoration. The interesting point there is: why don’t Germans remember the war in the same way? After all, they lost just as many men as everyone else. Do they feel guilty about starting it? Or ashamed that they lost?

Switzerland has had the luxury of not losing its young men in tragic conflicts, but it must remember that it is the exception. Wearing a poppy is not about glorifying war (as one Swiss man said to me) or making a political statement, as Fifa seems to think. It is about realising that we owe a debt to those who gave their lives in the past. Our world – and Switzerland – would be very different if they had not done so, and to honour that I will be silent today at 11am for two minutes. I wonder how many others in Switzerland will do the same?

23 Comments on "What a load of poppycock from Fifa!"

  1. David Friday November 11th, 2011 at 09:01 AM · Reply
    ! clearly visible from the motorway on the right hand side near Schönbuhl going towards Bern.
    A quick google search (Schlacht + Denkmal) gives 15 000 results.
    I do agree about your comments though. I always thought that this was completely neutral as far as politics is concerned; I used to take part in Poppy day events in the sixties and things were very sombre indeed, with no whisper of any political undercurrent. It got under way in America originally!

    • swisswatching Friday November 11th, 2011 at 09:10 AM · Reply

      Yes indeed David, but the Grauholz memorial is from a battle in 1798, when France defeated Canton Bern. The point I was making is that there are almost no memorials from the 20th century here – and after all that is what Remembrance Day is all about. How many of those “15,000 results” relate to something in living memory?

      • David Friday November 11th, 2011 at 09:15 AM · Reply

        ah Ok, I was just interested in the fact that you said there were no memorials in Switzerland, that’s what caught my interest!

      • Nicola Friday November 11th, 2011 at 02:52 PM · Reply

        Hi Diccon,
        I found a memorial while hiking on the Chasseral last year. It commemorates three members of the Swiss army who were killed in air combat in 1940. Unfortunately, I did not take a picture. If I recall correctly, it is a stone with a memorial plaque – so it’s definitely very discreet, too. I completely forgot about it until I read your blog post, but now I found some background information about it here (in German):

  2. tinu Friday November 11th, 2011 at 10:28 AM · Reply

    There is even a memorial in Bern! I just wrote a post about it here:

    • swisswatching Friday November 11th, 2011 at 11:57 AM · Reply

      An interesting memorial – rather different from all the other ones being honoured today aross Britain, France and Belgium. No dead, no loss just the fact that Switzerland defended itself and kept the baddies out. And as you say, very discreet.

  3. Jerry Friday November 11th, 2011 at 11:12 AM · Reply

    If I remember correctly, you’ll find a monument to the fallen soldier of the 1st and 2nd WW in Colombier, inside the castle. And don’t forget the “Fritz”, the proud monument of the WW1 mobilization in Switzerland (

    • swisswatching Friday November 11th, 2011 at 11:53 AM · Reply

      I will have to go to Colombier to look. As for Fritz, only the Swiss could build a memorial to having stayed out of a war!

  4. John Sivell Friday November 11th, 2011 at 11:48 AM · Reply

    There is a sinister side to poppywearing, and that is the pressure of political correctness. Watch British TV and see how everyone, but just everyone, displays his or her poppy. I can just imagine the silent disapproval and raised eyebrows directed towards those who don’t wear one, yet there might be many reasons for not doing so. One reason might be a simple distaste for public displays of any kind. Concern, compassion or remembrance can be acted out internally, or even externally at ceremonies or the like, without having to nail one’s colours to the mast.

  5. Patrick Friday November 11th, 2011 at 01:49 PM · Reply

    There is a World War I “Soldatendenkmal” in Solothurn, too; I found a picture of it e.g. at (fourth photo from the bottom of the page). The caption there says “viele Armeeangehörige starben an der Spanischen Grippe” i.e. many soldiers died during the 1918 flu pandemic. A pandemic memorial, that’s something different…

    • swisswatching Friday November 11th, 2011 at 02:00 PM · Reply

      Very different. And actually nothing at all to do with World War I, or any war in fact. Thousands died of Spanish flu all over Europe, soldiers and civilians alike.

      • Patrick Friday November 11th, 2011 at 02:09 PM · Reply

        Yes, the interesting thing is that there seemed to be a wish for a “soldier memorial”, so the Spanish flu was used as a reason (indeed, why is there no civilian flu memorial in Solothurn, one could ask?)… from the looks of the memorial, it quite looks a war memorial.

        • swisswatching Friday November 11th, 2011 at 02:12 PM · Reply

          Maybe the Swiss felt left out, with all those real war memorials springing up across Europe? And maybe no Swiss civilians died? Who knows. But you have to wonder why the soldier is naked, just with his hard hat on!

      • Susan Friday November 11th, 2011 at 07:32 PM · Reply

        There’s another WWI memorial just south of Zürich, the Forchdenkmal. You can find pictures on the German-language Wikipedia, and I’ve taken walks past it frequently. It is also a memorial to the 3000 Swiss who died in active service during WWI although again they are mostly flu victims. In defense of the Swiss, they might simply not know what the poppies mean. Although November 11th is still actively celebrated as Veteran’s Day in the U.S., no poppies are worn. As a U.S. citizen, I only learned about the significance poppies when I joined an English-language theater group here in Switzerland and met many citizens of the Commonwealth.

  6. Tim Footman Friday November 11th, 2011 at 03:12 PM · Reply

    Bangkok has a Victory Monument, but I bet 90% of Thais couldn’t tell you what victory it represents. (Partly because it dates from WW2, in which the country’s involvement is something of an embarrassment.)

  7. Janie Friday November 11th, 2011 at 09:47 PM · Reply

    What I would like to know is why the Swiss have an army and why do all have to serve? I am sure it is for the protection of Switzerland if ever attacked. But still what is going on there.?
    Today is Veteran’s Day in America and all governments, schools, banks, and such are closed. Shops are still open but there are parades and flags out. That is how America observes this day. Each town or city observes it in their own way. Some restaurants give veterans a free dinner. We honor our dead and living veterans. We are proud of them.

    • David Saturday November 12th, 2011 at 05:45 PM · Reply

      Hi Janie,
      we live in the middle of Europe and have avoided wars for about two hundred years, so we must be doing something right. People looking for somewhere to invest their money in time of crisis traditionally turn to Switzerland as they are now.
      Excuse me, but we don’t use our army to protect our business and political interests by violent means in far away places. However, once you get rid of an army you can’t just conjure it back overnight in times of need- people that were arguing after the fall of communism that there was now no longer need of an army in Switzerland have lately changed their arguments or shut up. Yes, if an army (that is to say a government) is doing its job right, it will, frustratingly for the trained soldiers,never be used.
      Try .

  8. plr Saturday November 12th, 2011 at 04:15 AM · Reply

    plr hey,
    just discovered you on aol. Nice article, I was just thinking around some thing very similar. Might start out blogging myself! Thanks a lot plr

  9. maryse schild Saturday November 12th, 2011 at 03:00 PM · Reply

    I live in France and yesterday everyone was shopping since it is a public holiday but shops were open!

    • Derek Bonfield Wednesday January 1st, 2014 at 09:35 PM · Reply

      interesting comments – tell me, did you originally live in Geneva many years ago?

  10. David Monday November 14th, 2011 at 09:28 AM · Reply

    I forgot:
    and I drive by everyday.
    We seem to be getting a bit of topic here, but let’s just natter on between ourselves…

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