While awaiting the FIFA World Cup quarterfinal matches to begin, and U.S. Secretary of Defense Tim Howard taking a well-deserved rest, I thought it might be useful to check-in on the status of the ConIFA World Cup, the tournament among teams from unrecognized entities and would-be states. The New York Times has just published a great pictorial of that tournament, which was held in June.
ConIFA, the Confederation of Independent Football Associations, explains on its website that it:
… is a global umbrella organization for all the football teams outside FIFA. There are more than 5 500 ethnicities around the world and hundreds of sportingly isolated regions that doesn´t have an international arena to play international football.
CONIFA welcome all registered Football Associations and teams to play. We organize the official World Championship for teams outside FIFA, Continental Championships, International tournament and Cups combined with Cultural Events and Youth Exchanges. The Football World outside FIFA is fast growing and millions of dedicated fans follow the scene – this is happening now…
Why aren’t these teams in FIFA, the international federation of football associations? Membership in FIFA is not based on being a state, but rather on being a football association. Thus, if you look at a list of FIFA member associations, England and Wales are separate associations, and thus separate World Cup teams. However, joining FIFA can be subject at times to some of the same political tensions as the recognition of a state.
According to FIFA’s statutes (.pdf), to be eligible to become a member of FIFA, an applicant must first be a member of one of the six main football confederations: the Confederación Sudamericana de Fútbol (CONMEBOL), the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), the Union des Associations Européennes de Football (UEFA), the Confédération Africaine de Football (CAF), the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF), or the Oceania Football Confederation (OFC). Without going into all the statutes of these individual confederations, it is likely that some vote among the existing member associations in a given confederation will be a first hurdle that an aspirant FIFA-member must pass. (See, for example, UEFA’s rules (.pdf).)
Once a member of a confederation, an association may then apply for FIFA membership. Admission is based on a vote of the FIFA Congress, which is comprised of a representative of each member association. Article 10 of FIFA’s Statutes states:
Any Association which is responsible for organising and supervising football in all of its forms in its Country may become a Member of FIFA. Consequently, it is recommended that all Members of FIFA involve all relevant stakeholders in football in their own structure. Subject to par.5 and par.6 below, only one Association shall be recognised in each Country.
Paragraph 5 allows for separate membership for the British associations and paragraph 6 explains:
An Association in a region which has not yet gained independence may, with the authorisation of the Association in the Country on which it is dependent, also apply for admission to FIFA.
Thus, although membership in FIFA is technically not based on statehood, the process is based on statehood and defers to recognized national organizations. Consequently, unrecognized secessionist entities such as South Ossetia and Nagorno Karabakh have no real chance of having their football associations become part of a confederation, let alone FIFA. The New York Times further describes some of the results of FIFA’s membership process:
For many teams, membership confers legitimacy and a shot at reaching the World Cup finals, a huge stage from which to wave their nation’s flag.
Palestine — recognized as a “nonmember observer state” by the United Nations and a member of FIFA since 1998 — now has a national stadium near Ramallah and has attempted to qualify for four World Cup finals. Other teams, like Kosovo, have been unable to join European soccer’s governing body, UEFA, because of political lobbying from Serbia. When Gibraltar, a British overseas territory on the Iberian Peninsula claimed by Spain, tried to join FIFA, Spain threatened to pull all of its teams — including the powerhouses of Barcelona and Real Madrid — from the European Champions League and international football. Despite the political pressure, Gibraltar became a member of UEFA in 2013 and hopes to join FIFA next.
While not all the associations in the ConIFA World Cup are from entities that are attempting to become states, the politics of statehood nonetheless is one of the variables defining this World Cup among the unrecognized. If statehood is the gold standard of the international system, then being accepted by such a state-centric organization as FIFA is viewed by some as a mark of legitimacy. At the very least, it is a benefit that existing states may wish to deny to unrecognized separatists.
And so we get the ConIFA World Cup, which gets into the legitimacy game by calling itself the “official” tournament of associations not in FIFA.
Some results of note: South Ossetia beat Abkhazia on penalties in quarterfinals. Nice beat defending Padania (the defending champs, I believe) in quarterfinals and then the Isle of Man in the finals. You can see the full ConIFA tournament results here. You can also read more about a previous World Cup among unrecognized entities in this post.