CONIFA World Football Cup brings players from unrecognised states together

CONIFA World Football Cup brings players from unrecognised states together

It's the world cup you've never heard of — for countries that don't officially exist.

This week the beautiful game is bringing together more than 300 million people from unrecognised states.

The Confederation of Independent Football Associations (CONIFA) aims to give voice to republics and stateless people not recognised by football's world body, FIFA.

"Our key motive is to let everyone, everywhere, play football," said CONIFA's general secretary Sascha Duerkop.

Hosted by Georgia's breakaway republic, Abkhazia, now a Russian protectorate and decaying former holiday destination of the Soviet elite, the tournament features 12 teams.

They include Kurdistan, which straddles four countries in the Middle East, the Chagos Islands, whose people were deported in the 1960s to make way for the US base at Diego Garcia, and Western Armenia, representing the ethnically Armenian population of eastern Turkey, the victims of the 1915 genocide.

Keeping politics out of football a challenge

Despite the shadow of injustice over many of the teams, the tournament's official aim is to "always put people in focus, not the political surroundings they come from".

But juggling an expressly apolitical event with the most political of objectives — independence and nationhood — does have its challenges.

"We are not oblivious to the potentially political nature of our tournament," Mr Duerkop said.

"But we are 100 per cent neutral. Our core goal is to promote football as a game to be enjoyed by everyone across countries and culture."

Yet the structure of the organisation raises questions about its funding and support.

CONIFA is a not-for-profit organisation registered with the European Union's Transparency Register. Officials are volunteers and all of the organisation's documents are available online.

The dealings of its financial arm, CONIFA Properties Pty Ltd, a corporate entity set up to sell shares to investors, are not so transparent.

CONIFA is registered in Sweden, but CONIFA Properties is registered in the tax haven, the Isle of Man, which Mr Duerkop claims "was a logical choice and not influenced by any transparency considerations".

"Our former vice president was Manx, and we had both public and commercial support on the Isle of Man to rent an office," he said.

For the players however, financial structures and tax havens are secondary.

"It was really difficult to raise the money," said Chagos Islands' official Sabrina Jean.

"…We did crowd funding, found sponsors and then we had to get our flag from London to Abkhazia."

Each team must fund their own passage to Abkhazia and there is no prize money.

"It is a unique experience, and I am really proud to represent my grandfather, my ancestors," said Jirijoonas 'Innu' Kanth, here with the indigenous Sapmi people of northern Scandinavia.

"I am blessed. Who doesn't want to play for their country?" said Somaliland striker Faisal Mohammad, who prefers to be known as Mr Wonderful.

"We hope for independence, but it is not why we are here."

"We are here to win."

Many of the teams feature players who have been professionals in European leagues, as well as up-and-coming academy players in competitions such as the English Premier League.

"Abkhazia is a strong team, plus they are hosting the event, so they could be the favourites. Also, Northern Cyprus is a skilled team," said Padanian goalkeeper Riccardo Zarri, before his side went down 2-1 to Northern Cyprus.

The Padania movement, centred on the Po Valley, wants a level of independence from Italy.

It took less than a day for politics to enter the competition, with the Chagos Islands reprimanded for their flag at the opening ceremony. It declared: "Back to our paradise — unforgotten Chagos."

"We consider the message to be on the boundary of political and we will be contacting the Chagos Islands to prevent it happening again," Mr Duerkop said.

Chagos was belted 9-0 by Abkhazia in their opening match on Sunday night.

Source: ABC News (Австралия)