It’s not political. It’s just showing respect for the war dead.

A short story about a thing that didn’t happen, to make a point about a different thing…

It is June 2002.

England are facing Argentina in the group stages of the World Cup in South Korea and Japan.

The match is full of footballing tension, after the encounters in 1998 (complete with Beckham red card) and 1986 (complete with one of the most fantastic goals ever scored in a World Cup, and also the other one).

And there’s something else.

The game will be occurring just seven days before the twentieth anniversary of Argentina’s defeat in the Falklands War.

In the run-up to the match, the Argentinian FA approach FIFA. They would like to recognise their war dead from the conflict by wearing a symbol on their shirts, especially for this one match.

It’s not a political symbol, they say.

It has nothing to do with the team that is the opposition, they say.

It is simply a message of remembrance, on the closest day to the anniversary that they are playing football, they say.


My questions to you, dear reader:

Should FIFA allow it? Should the English FA lodge an objection? What if the symbol the AFA chose was the silhouette of the Belgrano, or a symbol that incorporated the outline of the Falklands/Malvinas territory they still dispute? Would that move it from being an act of remembrance to being a political provocation?

Or, is life just easier if you uphold a blanket ban on political displays at football matches so that FIFA doesn’t need to have an ethics committee deciding on each and every occasion whether countries should or shouldn’t be able to display symbols, and what the symbols are or aren’t allowed to consist of?


Martin Belam is Social & New Formats Editor for the Guardian in London. Every Friday he publishes a list of recommended reads covering journalism, media and technology. Sign up here.

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