On Sunday, the Confederation of Independent Football Associations (CONIFA) announced details about its next major tournament: the 2018 CONIFA World Cup. The Turkish Republic of North Cyprus (TRNC) is among the 16 nations to have qualified for the finals, which will be played in the British capital next year.
The 2018 World Football Cup will run between Thursday 31 May and Sunday 10 June, bringing together a diverse collection of CONIFA members from around the world. Participation was determined based on qualification games and tournaments, regional qualification spots, and two wild cards.
The 16 teams who will be competing in the competition dubbed the “alternative World Cup” are:
- Africa: Barawa; Matabeleland; Kabylia
- Asia: Tibet; Tamil Eelam; United Koreans of Japan; Panjab
- Europe: Abkhazia; Padania; North Cyprus; Western Armenia; Ellan Vannin; Felvidek; Székely Land
- North America: Cascadia
- Oceania: Kiribati
“We are thrilled to be taking CONIFA to England – the spiritual home of football,” said CONIFA President Per-Anders Blind. “The World Football Cup just gets bigger and bigger. After hosting our inaugural tournament in Sweden in 2014, we reached new heights in Abkhazia last year with an event that received media coverage on every inhabited continent. We are confident 2018 will be our best tournament yet, and London will be the perfect host.”
CONIFA is a voluntary-run body, formed to represent partially-recognised states, regions, minority groups and sports-isolated territories currently excluded by FIFA. The organisation, which is strictly politically-neutral, helps run regional and global tournaments, ensuring players from unrecognised nations also have an opportunity to play competitive international football.
“For the first time in our history, we will have a team representing each continent with CONIFA members: Africa, Asia, Europe, North America and Oceania,” said the organisation’s General Secretary Sascha Düerkop. “We are particularly proud that the 2018 World Football Cup will be such an international spectacle, and provide a platform for our members to showcase they cultures, histories and footballing ability.”
North Cyprus won qualification to the 2018 tournament after reaching the final of the 2017 CONIFA European Cup in June. As host nation, the Turkish Cypriot national team played Padania, from northern Italy, in the final. Conceding early and going a man down, North Cyprus managed to draw level and the game ended 1-1 after normal time, but they went on to lose 5-3 in the ensuing penalty shoot-out. There is a large Turkish Cypriot Diaspora in Britain and will no doubt they will be willing North Cyprus to hope to go one better when they play in the World Cup finals next year.
Barawa, a region of Somalia, qualified for the tournament as host – the Barawa Football Association is based in London and consists of Barawan diaspora. Tibet, whose honorary president is his Holiness the Dalai Lama, received a wildcard, as did Western Armenia. Abkhazia qualified as reigning world champions after they beat Panjab in a thrilling penalty shoot-out finale at the 2016 World Football Cup, while Tamil Eelam earned their spot by winning the Challenge Cup.
The participation of Kiribati will raise awareness about the existential threat climate change poses to their low-lying Pacific homeland. CONIFA has been actively involved in football development in Kiribati since it joined as a member in May 2016.
The official draw for the 2018 CONIFA World Football Cup will take place in London later this year. The draw will also coincide with an announcement regarding the tournament’s major sponsor.
Main image from 2016 CONIFA World Football Cup final between Abkhazia (in green) and Panjab. Photo © Beslan Lagulaa/CONIFA