Read, Debate: Engage.

The Other World Cup

August 01, 2014
located:South Africa, Sweden
by:Vanessa Ellingham
You may not know that just one month before the FIFA World Cup took place in Brazil, a football world cup of another kind was underway at the top of the other side of the world.

Just like the 2014 FIFA World Cup, the games of the second round of the ConIFA World Football Cup were mostly decided by penalties. And in the end a winning team was crowned.

But this alternative tournament was attended by members of ConIFA – that is the Confederation of Independent Football Associations – a.k.a. teams representing states that are not recognised by FIFA.

The inaugural ConIFA World Football Cup (note the word order) was held in the Swedish city of Ostersund, hosted by FA Sápmi, the football association representing the indigenous Sámi people who live in parts of Sweden, Norway, Finland and Russia.

The 12 competing teams hailed from unrecognised states, ethnic groups, islands and ‘frozen' conflict zones, forming a group of misfit peoples that represent just the tip of the iceberg of those who view themselves as separate from their recognised state for a variety of reasons.

Teams included Iraqi Kurdistan, as well as two separatist states within Georgia, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and Darfur from Sudan. The players from team Darfur United all live in refugee camps in Chad.

Teams from politically stable parts of Europe competed as well. Padania, the three-time winner of another alternative football world cup called the VIVA World Cup, is a team promoted by an Italian political party that has advocated for a separate state to be created from parts of Northern Italy. They were joined by Occitania, representing the parts of France, Spain and Italy where the Occitan language is spoken, while the Isle of Man came runner-up to the winning team from the County of Nice.

For most, if not all, of the teams at the 2014 ConIFA World Football Cup, representation at FIFA is highly unlikely, as membership can be fraught with political tinkering.

Kosovo has not been able to join FIFA’s European confederation UEFA because of political lobbying against them from Serbia. When Gibraltar tried to join in 2007, Spain threatened to remove all its teams from the European Champions league, which would have seen two top teams (Barcelona and Real Madrid) out of competition. Finally in 2013 Gibraltar joined UEFA, with a view to joining FIFA in the future.

Luckily political wrangling doesn’t hold much power at ConIFA. The Confederation reported that it had received a letter from the Azerbaijani football association asking for team Nagorno-Karabakh, representing the Artsakh Republic, to be pulled from the tournament, which did not happen. The republic is considered part of Azerbaijan, but this is disputed.

Here at ConIFa, peoples of all kinds were welcome.

The team from the Isle of Man (or ‘Ellan Vannin’) even raised funds before the tournament to help cover the travel costs of the Darfur United players, who are all refugees. This forged a strong bond between the two teams and saw them cheering each other on during their matches.

“This has been about culture and friendship,” player Conor Doyle told Isle of Man News. “We showed our culture to the rest of the world. We’ve done our island proud.”

They certainly did. Not only by representing their people with dignity but by giving another team the chance to do the same.

Many would say this spirit of good sportsmanship is lost on the FIFA tournament. While it was heartening to see players from both winning team Germany and runners-up Argentina donate earnings from the 2014 FIFA World Cup to Brazilian children’s surgeries, Argentinean cancer clinics and other good causes, these gestures pale in comparison to the damage FIFA’s activities impose on hosts peoples and their environments.

The construction of venues and infrastructure to support the tournament in Brazil this year caused the displacement of vulnerable communities, while others were forcibly evicted. Human rights groups reported the use of forced labour and child labour as Brazil struggled to ready itself for the influx of people and global attention a tournament like the FIFA World Cup places on a nation, developed or otherwise. Protestors against these measures were violently repressed by Brazilian authorities. The 2016 Brazil Olympics is still to come.

And Brazil is not alone. As Qatar prepares for the 2022 FIFA World Cup the exploitation of migrant workers has been exposed. Labourers working on stadiums in intense desert heat are being overworked and underpaid, some working every day for an entire month for as little as 45 British pence an hour, according to the Guardian.

The deaths of labourers working under these conditions in Qatar are expected to reach the thousands, according to the International Trade Union Confederation. This is utterly unacceptable.

FIFA must do much more to ensure the protection of vulnerable people – both workers and inhabitants – during the preparations for each tournament.

Perhaps they could take a look at another little tournament, which swears by a strict ethical code, and where everyone is welcome.

Article written by:
Vanessa Ellingham