Ever heard of Matabeleland? How about Székely Land, Felvidék or Kabylie? Though they may sound like impossibly exotic fictitious lands to the uninitiated, these are just four of the competitors at an alternative World Football Cup being held this summer that few people will be aware of.
While the eyes of the world remain firmly glued on Russia as the preparations for the 2018 FIFA World Cup are nearing completion, the Confederation of Independent Football Associations (CONIFA) has been quietly preparing a sister tournament to be hosted later this month.
Established in 2014 (with a predecessor tournament, the VIVA World Cup, held on five occasions between 2006-2012), this summer’s tournament is the third edition of the CONIFA World Football Cup. According to CONIFA’s website, this alternative to the World Cup intends to enhance ‘global relations and international understanding…for people, nations and sportingly isolated regions whom share the joy of playing international football’. To this end, the organisation encourages open cultural exchange off the field wherever possible, with opposing teams given the opportunity to sing, dance or showcase the special characteristics of their cultures and histories in arranged social events.
This summer’s edition will be hosted by Barawa- a region of Somalia hoping to raise awareness of their embattled people’s culture. Unable to stage the tournament in their homeland due to ongoing conflict, Barawa diaspora will host matches at football grounds across London, England between 31 May-10 June. 16 non-internationally recognised football teams will take part, all competing in aid of their unique causes, lofty aspirations, and intriguing back-stories.
Among these there is Tuvalu, an independent but miniscule Polynesian island nation of approximately 11,200 people hoping to raise their nation’s profile on the international stage; Tuvalu has struggled to obtain FIFA membership since 1987 due to a lack of funds to improve their sports facilities. Then there is the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, a highly isolated, de-facto nation only recognised by Turkey since declaring independence from Cyprus in 1983. Its shared capital, Nicosia, remains the only divided city in Europe, with a Berlin style militarised border separating north from south since 1974. There are obscure independence movements, such as the representatives of US/Canadian Pacific Northwest separatist region, Cascadia, who hold environmentalism and the protection of their region’s unique ecological splendor at the heart of their cause.
So if you’re in London this May, why not lend your support to the tournament quietly working to unite little known, diverse and unique cultures under the banner of sport, all while sampling an authentic small town English football club experience? Put on your teams colours, grab a traditional British pie and join in the multi-cultural carnival atmosphere at one of the 10 quaint stadiums hosting World Football Cup matches. Alternatively, if you’re more of an armchair supporter, you can tune into all the games on CONIFA’s social media channels or on mycujoo.tv .
More information on CONIFA, the participants and tickets can be found on www.conifa.org.
Alastair McCready is a British journalist.