07 Jun Abkhazia Defeats Panjab in Overtime for ConIFA World Football Cup
I know Opinio Juris is probably not where you come for sports updates but this is the result of the ConIFA World Football Cup, a tournament among unrecognized regimes, minorities, and stateless peoples.
For more on ConIFA, statehood, and nationalism, see my post from last week. In short, the ConIFA competition may be an attempt not only to boost morale within unrecognized regimes, ethnic enclaves, and stateless people, but also remind the rest of the world of the claims that these groups have, be they claims of statehood or simply a desire to be recognized to exist as a people. Consider the following from an article posted by Al Jazeera:
…CONIFA’s president Per-Anders Blind explained how this World Cup has nothing to do with politics and borders.
“Our aim is to show that football can be a tool to bring our members to the global stage. We all have the same right to exist,” he said.
Chewing on a little pouch of “snus’, a Swedish chewing tobacco, Blind described how the idea for the CONIFA World Cup was inspired by his own life experience.
“My father is a reindeer herder in the Swedish and Norwegian mountains. I was born and raised as part of a group of forgotten people, the Sami, and endured discrimination because of that.”
Blind’s comments are reminiscent of the Olympic ideal to “use sport to foster peace and reconciliation, underlining the power of the Games to promote tolerance and solidarity among the participants, fans and people all over the world.” Perhaps the founders of ConIFA were frustrated that membership international sports organizations such as the International Olympic Committee and (particularly relevant to ConIFA) FIFA, was too intertwined with statehood to extend these ideals to unrecognized regimes and stateless peoples. As the ConIFA website states, echoming the Olympic ideal,
CONIFA aims to build bridges between people, nations, minorities and isolated regions all over the world through friendship, culture and the joy of playing football. CONIFA works for the development of affiliated members and is committed to fair play and the eradication of racism.
But it can be difficult to set aside issues of politics, borders, and laws when the membership of ConIFA is practically defined by its tension with existing borders, politics,and/ or laws. While the structures of the International Olympic Committee and FIFA may favor recognized states, the tournament organization of ConIFA itself steps from the sports field into the arena of high politics. Abkhazia, the Georgian breakaway region, not only won the tournament but was also the host. While the tournament may be a morale-booster for the population of Abkhazia, it was played in territory that Georgia views was taken from it by a Russian military invasion. The Al Jazeera article notes that:
Georgian officials have complained that the CONIFA tournament is illegal since it it lacks Georgia’s authorisation within what it considers to be its territorial boundary. According to Georgian law, participants entering Abkhazia through Russia would be entering Georgian territory illegally.
The ConIFA World Football Cup symbolizes different things for different people. For some, it is an affirmation that they, too, matter. For others, the tournament is affront to the rule of law. And for some, it might just be a chance to watch the home team play a game of soccer. In any case, though, it matters.
Videos and summaries of the games are available at the ConIFA website. (And, by the way, Northern Cyprus beat ConIFA heavyweights Padania for the third place trophy.)