4 July 2018

Africa: Freedom to Play Football - Conifa's Alternative World Football Cup

The 2018 CONIFA World Football Cup was the third edition of the tournament which is an international football tournament for states, minorities, stateless peoples and regions unaffiliated with FIFA.

The tournament organized by the Confederation of Independent Football Associations (CONIFA) was hosted by the London-based diaspora team of Barawa (a region in Somalia) from May 31st to June 9th 2018. The term 'host' in this tournament is used loosely due to the nature of CONIFA's membership.

Under CONIFA's criteria, the "host" is merely the CONIFA member that heads the organising committee for the tournament thus the member does not need to host's in its 'territory'. Barawa for example is located in Somalia, but the Barawa FA represents members of the Somali diaspora in England. The tournament therefore took place in the stadia of English lower league teams across London.

The confederation represents 334 million people worldwide and, for some of the teams, it's the first time they have competed at this global level. Its membership is an eclectic inclusive mix made off: Small, fully recognised nations who are not in FIFA, e.g. Monaco; States with limited or no international recognition, e.g. Northern Cyprus; Sub-national entities, e.g. Iraqi Kurdistan; Ethnic groups, such as minority ethnic groups within a country or region, or a diaspora, e.g. Kárpátalja and Barawa and Regions spanning multiple countries with a unifying identity, e.g. Cascadia.

"CONIFA is different to FIFA, in essence, because CONIFA recognizes unrecognized states," said Omar Sufi, team captain of hosts Barawa FA to CNN. "This tournament is important globally because we're playing against different teams from different backgrounds and we're all coming here together with the same value."

Since CONIFA was founded in 2013, the tournament has gone from strength to strength, increasing global interest and membership. Its last tournament held in 2016 was held in Abkhazia, Georgia, where the host nation won.

A Unifying Tournament

The competition featured 16 teams seeded into four pots of four for the group stage draw, based on the CONIFA rankings.

Pot 1: Barawa, Abkhazia, Panjab and Padania

Pot 2: Northern Cyprus, Székely Land, United Koreans in Japan and Ellan Vannin

Pot 3: Felvidék, Tamil Eelam, Western Armenia and Kiribati

Pot 4: Tibet, Matabeleland, Kabylia and Cascadia

Barawa VS Tamil Eelam: Match one of the 2018 CONIFA World Football Cup

Matabeleland placed in pot 4 was the only team from southern Africa, and, unlike other diaspora teams at the World Football Club, their players traveled to London from Zimbabwe for the tournament. According to CNN the team, known as the "Warrior Birds," in their first game against Padania, from northern Italy; one of the favorites and the current European CONIFA champions; lost 6-1.

President and founder of Matabeleland Football Confederacy, Busani Sibindi said about the tournament would promote football in the region, "One of the objectives was to provide equity within the country in terms of sports promotion, because sports are also a unifier is some way. There's skewed irregularities in terms of sports investment in the country."

His statement was also in reference to the fact that Matabeleland had to crowd fund for their trip to London as CONIFA unlike FIFA doesn't have the sort of resources to dispense for such situations.

Brody Patience in action for Ellan Vannin football team at the ConIFA World Football Cup

Despite it's unifying agenda the tournament was not without controversy. The Ellan Vannin team from Pot 2 withdrew from the tournament after their appeal against the Barawa team's fielding of an apparently ineligible player was rejected. Therefore handing Tibet, their opponents in the First Placement Round, a 3-0 victory.

Ultimately even after being a late entry to the tournament, Kárpátalja won their first title on 9th June 2018, defeating Northern Cyprus 3-2 on penalties in the final.

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