CONIFA: The FIFA of Unrecognized Countries
By: Matisse de Rivières
What is CONIFA?
“While FIFA’s membership coheres with an image of the world map, CONIFA represents a kind of inverse image, revealing the many nations and groups that fall through the cracks”
The Confederation of Independent Football associations (CONIFA) is a football federation for all members that do no meet the criteria for FIFA (federation of international football association).
It is the other world cup for entities excluded from international sport and diplomacy. CONIFA emphasizes the fact that participants are members and not countries, they assert that a shared identity is the real criteria: "Our flexible view of identity is more suited to the modern world than the existing one is” said the head of the tournament's organising committee.
CONIFA is the other side of modern football, it is football beyond borders and for places that aren't on the map. Their members are indeed “nations, de-facto nations, regions, minority peoples and sports-isolated territories”.
CONIFA is a nonprofit organization, representing 334 million people, which aims to “build bridges between people, nations, minorities and isolated regions all over the world through friendship, culture and the joy of playing football”.
Many of the 58 members are victims of economic, political and geopolitical instability: they are even denied the right to play football (CONIFA, official website). The tournament only has lucrative sponsors, but its international visibility is increasing after each edition.
In 2018, for the first time, the tournament was held in London, a global metropolitan city: record attendance was set and international media was present (the conversation magazine).
Per-Anders Blind, president of the association explains that “When CONIFA reaches financial stability, we would like to start a humanitarian foundation and create different projects to help and support people in need.”
The president is an indigenous Sapmi reindeer herder and businessman (James Hendicott), and his main partners and co-founders are human rights activists.
Members of CONIFA
Members of CONIFA could be classified into four categories, according to the global observatory: The first category is minority groups participating in order to celebrate their local culture. As such, these is no clear conflict with central governments because the group is not seeking independence independence.
This is the case for the Kárpátalja people - a Hungarian minority from southwest Ukraine. The aim for these members is on building the unity of the underrepresented group through culture and sport. A good example could also be The Isle of Man, an autonomous dependency of the British Crown located in the Irish Sea between England and Ireland.
The second category is diaspora communities, uniting as a football team outside their homeland's official borders or country of origin. Most of the time, this situation is explained because the conditions on the homeland are too dangerous, or the teams are created with a community of refugees in another land.
In this case, there is a direct confrontation with the central government. The Barawa Football team was formed by the Barawa diaspora community in England.
The third category is de facto states or unrecognized countries. These regions have broken away from their mainland and declared independence, but are recognised by none or only a few other recognized states.
They are, geopolitically, the strongest members with the best national football associations. Unrecognized countries often try to legitimize their international presence through their participation in CONIFA and other international sport.
The last category, are recognized sovereign states who are unable to participate in FIFA for financial reasons (Tuvalu and Kiribati). They have not been able to afford the stadiums and hostel capacity requested by FIFA to become a member.
CONIFA is a competition in which freedom itself is the real prize. Even if the association claims to be apolitical, participation gives a strong sense of nationhood to weakened identities. CONIFA aims at “leaving all politics behind”, but in reality, the competition is between football, statehood, and identity (The conversation).
The tournament aims at gathering identities through chants, ceremonies, and mutual respect. CONIFA gives their members a chance “to spread their message of acceptance, equality and positivity far beyond the reaches of their noble endeavours to date.” (These football Times). The CONIFA World Cup is a good example of striving for international recognition through sport.
CONIFA is not without its controversy however. The participation of Northern Cyprus was controversial: CONIFA received a written protest from the Greek Cypriot community in London, opposing the involvement of Northern Cyprus. In addition, many other states have attempted to block participation of territories they deem their own.
Tibet’s team manager stated their participation in the tournament of 2018 has the goal of demonstrating their nationhood and raising international concern on omnipresent Chinese human rights violation (restriction of religion, belief, association, speech, movement) (Human Right Watch).
CONIFA World Cup
The CONIFA World Cup, the successor to the VIVA World Cup, is CONIFA's version of the FIFA World Cup. The tournament is held every two years and generally takes place in a host country of one of its members. t is not always possible for the host of the World Football Cup to be able to hold the competition in their own "territory".
As a consequence of this, CONIFA defines the "host" of the World Football Cup as being the member association that heads the organising committee, whether or not the tournament is actually played in the geographical area that the host association represents.
The 2020 competition would have been the first CONIFA World Football Cup to be hosted outside of Europe. However on the 19th of August 2019, CONIFA announced that the cup would not be held in Somaliland due to logistical difficulties. There has been no replacement host as of date of writing.
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