(The following article was published in the April 28th 2019 Match Programme for Surrey vs the Chagos Islands at Merstham FC.)
Many of the fans here today at Surrey’s match against the Chagos Islands will know that last summer’s Conifa World Football Cup was a huge success with anyone who was lucky enough to get to any of the games able to confirm that a great time was had by everyone involved.
For anyone still unclear about who Conifa is and what they do – they are the Confederation of Independent Football Associations, a federation for all associations outside FIFA. They support representatives of international teams from nations, de-facto nations, regions, minority peoples and sports isolated territories.
In practice that meant last May footballers from areas such as Cascadia, Matabeleland, Padania and Tuvalu came together for a real carnival of football hosted by local non-league clubs Sutton United, Enfield Town and Bromley among others. Karpatalya – ethnic Hungarians from Ukraine – ultimately beat Northern Cyprus in the final in front of over 2,500 fans.
With the great levels of support shown by fans and curious onlookers alike it is no doubt that the tournament was a fantastic experience for all. But now Conifa are looking to the future with further continental competitions planned before the next World Football Cup including this summer’s European Football Cup in Artsakh – a de facto state in the Caucasus. But who might join the established teams at these tournaments?
Yorkshire were admitted to Conifa just before the World Football Cup started and it is entirely feasible that they will be competing in tournaments over the next few years. Other areas of the UK – such as Surrey – have been forming their own squads over the last year or so and Cornwall joined Conifa towards the end of last year.
All five continents were represented at the 2018 World Football Cup but there is a glaring lack of Conifa representation from South America so maybe teams of indigenous peoples or minority groups across Latin America will emerge to become powerhouses of the future?
Looking closer to home it seems likely that there could be further expansion of the European section. Padania have been a long time member of the confederation, with no little success, but there are surely other areas of Italy that would be proud of representing their region in such an international tournament.
With the unification of Italy only taking place towards the end of the 19th century – and the many cultures and dialects that are celebrated throughout the country even today – more representation from the Italian peninsula seems conceivable. Sardinia are the most recent Conifa members from the region but there could be even more.
Spain is another country made up of distinct regions that could be represented at Conifa tournaments. Although the Basque country already has a national team they have recently concentrated on becoming an affiliate member of UEFA and therefore look unlikely to fall under the Conifa umbrella any time soon. But there are other regions that could provide some potentially formidable teams.
Although it is not a pre-requisite for a region to have a strong nationalist trait, areas such as Asturias and Galicia in north western Spain are home to a strong cultural identity and fans of clubs such as Real Oviedo and Celta Vigo regularly identify with the region rather than with Spain as a whole. With a history of autonomous regions and a fragmented society that thinks local first and national second, it would seem that Conifa would do well to enquire about representative sides from this part of Europe.
France has had teams compete in Confia competitions in the past – with the County of Nice winning the inaugural World Football Cup in 2014. Representatives from Monaco and Provence have also featured in non-FIFA tournaments, although there has been little heard of them for a while now. The Breton (Brittany) national football team has probably the most distinguished history however, having played against a whole host of FIFA nations such as Cameroon, Togo and Mali.
Just a quick glance at a map of the regions of France gives an idea of the potential for future members. Areas such as the island of Corsica would seem perfect – with their rich history coupled with a strong cultural identity. The fans of the Corsican clubs that play in the French football leagues – such as Bastia and Ajaccio – have long promoted their nationalist ideals and there would definitely be support for a representative team if they were to join a federation such as Conifa. A Corsica team have played since the late 1960s and have recently competed in a tournament in Martinique (itself an overseas region of France).
What seems clear is that due to the success of tournaments such as the 2018 World Football Cup – and the media coverage it gained – there will be further expansion to the Conifa family. One of the main ideals of the confederation is to promote cultural identity and to give regions a voice where they may not otherwise be heard. With the political instability that can be seen in many parts of the world it seems likely that there will be more ‘nations’ joining up soon.
Dan Roberts (@LasVegasWI)