CONIFA Offers a Humanitarian Alternative to FIFA.
Soon, the eyes of the world will be on the FIFA World Cup. There will be all the usual pomp and spectacle, feats of athleticism, and celebration of unity. And yet, FIFA’s large-scale corruption is no secret to fans and players alike. Recurring scandals have tainted the name of soccer’s governing international organization, culminating in the arrest of seven top officials for claims of corruption in 2015. But FIFA also has a somewhat less known history of excluding the many teams that do not meet its participation requirements. To play in FIFA, the team’s nation must be recognized by the international community, and only one football team from each country is allowed to participate.
In 2013, the Confederation of Independent Football Associations, otherwise known as CONIFA, was formed with the intention of providing a world stage for these unrecognized teams to compete on. In a poetic opposition to FIFA, CONIFA was founded as a non-profit and represents teams comprised of people without a state, unrecognized nations, minorities, people who prefer representing their cultural identity over country of birth, and anyone else who cannot, or prefers not to meet FIFA’s requirements. CONIFA now includes 47 member teams and represents 334 million people worldwide. “We have nothing against FIFA,” CONIFA General Secretary Sascha Düerkop told the press shortly before the opening of the CONIFA World Football Cup, “They are very great to learn how not to do things.”
The 2018 CONIFA World Football Cup opened on May 31 in South London, and was hosted by the London-based Barawa team of Somali refugees. Among those represented at the cup was the Pandania team, comprised of players from eight different regions of northern Italy, and winners of the past two CONIFA European Football Cups as well as ending fourth in the 2016 World Football Cup. Another notable team is Abkhazia, the former title holders representing their semi-recognized Eastern European state. Representing Matabeleland, a war-torn area in western Zimbabwe, are the Warrior Birds, who successfully raised the 25,000 dollars necessary to make the trip to England entirely through crowd funding and selling jerseys. “No one ever believed we would make it to London but we made it,” said captain Praise Ndlovu, “I'd like to say thank you to everyone.”
The final match of game was between Northern Cyprus, a state recognized only by Turkey, and Karpatalya, representing the Hungarian minority in Ukraine. While in the end, Karpatalya won the match 3-2, CONIFA is about more than just winning, it’s about inclusivity, about allowing everyone to participate on the world stage.
“As long as FIFA has existed, there has always been a non-FIFA world of teams who want to play on a global stage but can’t for a variety of reasons,” Per-Anders Blind, the president of CONIFA, told The New Yorker. “What we have done is fill a gap, a white spot on the map that nobody cared about.” CONIFA represents a more honest, somewhat purer version of football, which has returned to FIFA’s original intention of supporting the world-wide football community and organizing truly international competitions.
EMMA BRUCE is an undergraduate student studying English and marketing at Emerson College in Boston. She has worked as a volunteer in Guatemala City and is passionate about travel and social justice. She plans to continue traveling wherever life may take her.