ConIFA Football Cup: The alternative World Cup for unrecognised nations
Palatial Luzhniki Stadium Central Moscow will be the entire universe's focus with bated breath on the evening of June 14th. Russia entertains Saudi Arabia in the FIFA World Cup's curtain-raiser.
However, unknown to many, just three days before the Russian party gets underway, another World Cup would be winding down in London. It is the third edition of the biennial ConIFA World Football Cup which focuses on unrecognised states, officially nonexistent autonomously, hence unaffiliated to FIFA.
Why the tournament?
Founded in 2013, the Confederation of Independent Football Associations (ConIFA) was established with the sole aim of bringing international football to the neglected non-FIFA affiliated associations across the world. It consists of over 50 members and represents over 300 million people worldwide. According to Per-Anders Blind, co-founder of ConIFA, the vision was born out of patriotic pride, passion for the beautiful game, and resentment at FIFA’s refusal to recognise them.
For me, it's a peace project. We have a mission to create a global arena for the forgotten people, we have so many members that are not recognised around the world.
First two trials
The inaugural edition was held just one year after ConIFA’s formation. Due to its member's inability to stage such events, an alternate city is used with the hosts heading the organising committee. The debut host Sapmi chose the Swedish city of Ostersund. Country of Nice emerged as winners of the twelve-team competition.
Having recorded tremendous success in the first, ConIFA aimed for a much bigger impact two years later. Rather than teams being invited, they had to go through qualifiers. Abkhazia, a disputed territory sandwiched between Georgia and Azerbaijan brought the competition to the former. They made sure the trophy remained there.
This year's tournament will consist of 16 teams as it continues to chase the conventional World Cup format. Barawa, a small region in Somalia, will organise the event between 31 May and June 9th in England across 10 centres. Of these, seven are located in Greater London, two in the towns of Slough and Bracknell in Berkshire, and one in the borough of Thurrock in Essex. The opening ceremony is at Bromley FC’s Hayes Lane stadium on Thursday with the closing billed for Queen Elizabeth II stadium 10 days later.
For the first time, there will be representatives from five major footballing continents – Africa, America, Asia, Europe and Oceania – proving that the organisation are now, more than ever, fulfilling their mission statement in uniting the world through football. Europe was awarded seven places. Led by reigning champions Abkhazia, they are joined by Felvidek, Padania, Northern Cyprus, Ellan Vannin, Szekely Land and Karpatalja. There was no place, however, for ConIFA rookie Yorkshire.
Smallest Japanese minority, United Koreans of Japan, alongside Tamil Eelam, Western Armenia, Tibet and Panjab make up the Asian contingents. Host Barawa, Matabeleland and Kabylia will represent the Mother Continent while Cascadia will fly the American flag. Oceania has two; Kiribati and Tuvalu.
What to look out for
Ex-Premier League referee, Mark Clattenburg makes a return to his homeland. The 43-year-old and 24 others will adopt a green card in addition to the red and yellow. This will be issued to players either for dissent or diving and they must be substituted immediately. Off the pitch, there will be an extensive cultural carnival on display, showcasing the rich heritage of these stateless nations.