Protests and Identities: The Alternative World Cup
“Sports succeeds where politics has failed people.”
Xherdan Shaqiri’s 90th-minute winner against Serbia and the subsequent celebration once again brought to the fore a long-standing political issue between two countries - Kosovo and Serbia. Kosovo is a disputed territory in Southeastern Europe which declared independence from Serbia in 2008. Yet the state has so far only been partially recognized with 117 countries providing diplomatic recognition to this troubled state.
Identity and recognition are some of the fundamental needs of the human race. Every four years when the world gathers to celebrate the spectacle called the FIFA World Cup, we are exposed to not just great action on the pitch but stories of hardships of footballers where the sport has provided the much-needed recognition and the road to a better future.
This year as the world watches events unfolding at Russia and we get to know more about the likes of Romelu Lukaku, Raheem Sterling and Gabriel Jesus, let’s not forget that there was an alternative World Cup held in England providing a voice to the people whom the governments have stopped listening to.
What is the CONIFA World Cup?
The Confederation of Independent Football Associations was founded in 2013 to cater to the footballing needs of the non-FIFA affiliated associations across the world. Since 2014, the organization has been conducting a World Cup every two years with the latest edition being held in England.
The CONIFA is an apolitical organization but the battles it fights are strictly political. The Association provides a platform and a voice to regions, communities or groups whose identity has not been represented by the governments of their countries. Take for instance the case of Tibet which is not recognized by the Democratic People’s Republic of China or Northern Cyprus which comprises people of Turkish descent.
The official hosts of this year’s tournament, Barawa, represent a highly tumultuous region of Somalia which had been seized by the Al-Shabab militants in 2009 and the situation still prevails. This year’s winners, Kárpátalja, represent the Hungarian minority in Ukraine who have not been granted autonomy in spite of a favourable referendum held in 1991. And these are just some of the incredible tales of the teams who gathered in England this year.
Threat to FIFA?
On a commercial level, the CONIFA World Cup is extremely small and the aim of the organization is to ensure some teams actually become a part of football’s global governing body one day. However, at a time when the likes of FIFA and the UEFA to name a few, have taken steps to suppress political protests at stadiums, the CONIFA differs on that part.
Football has always been a sport of the masses. Suppressing voices in stadiums is in a way taking away what football means to a lot of people. In that regard, the CONIFA is a warning to the FIFA and to governments across the world. If you can’t represent people’s interests and give them a voice, football will. And football will in a way that empowers them.