You won’t see the likes of Abkhazia, Northern Cyprus or Tibet competing in this year’s FIFA World Cup. As ‘unrecognised nations’, their football associations are ineligible to be members of FIFA, the official world football governing body, meaning their players traditionally have no tournament in which to play, their fans having no team to cheer on.
That all changed in 2014 when CONIFA, the Confederation of Independent Football Associations, hosted its first ever World Football Cup in Sweden, where Nice beat the Isle of Man in the final. Subsequent tournaments followed, and this summer, 16 CONIFA members gathered in London – some from as far away as the south Pacific island of Tuvalu, or Matabeleland, in west Zimbabwe – to compete in the largest tournament the organisation has yet hosted.
‘CONIFA is an international football governing body, bringing together representative selections that represent countries, linguistic minorities or remote territories that feel excluded from the international football family,’ explains Sascha Düerkop, General Secretary of CONIFA. ‘All our members are not members of FIFA and their players, coaches and referees alike do not feel represented by any of the 211 FIFA members.’ Associations interested in joining CONIFA have to demonstrate their minority ethnic, cultural and/or linguistic heritage when they apply, with existing members making the final decision about who gets to join.
This year’s tournament was won by Karpatalya – representing the ethnic Hungarian minority in west Ukraine – defeating Northern Cyprus on penalties after a 0-0 draw in the final in Enfield. Despite the logistical difficulties of arranging an international football tournament in and around London – with matches hosted in stadiums from Bromley to Bracknell, Sutton to Slough – CONIFA’s ambitions extend well beyond the final whistle. ‘We are still in the early stage of an adventure that will last for many years,’ says CONIFA President Per-Anders Blind. ‘CONIFA has grown from zero to representing 334 million people in five continents with four years; work done solely by heroes from all over the world who have contributed their volunteer skills and their spare time. When CONIFA reaches financial stability, we would like to start a humanitarian foundation and create different programmes and projects to help and support people in need. Football is a tool for a higher purpose.’
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