The other Football World Cup

The football world cup finished 8th of June and was won by one of the favorites. The home team, who took the bronze medal the last time the tournament was played on home soil and became champions by winning 21-1 in a previous tournament, was knocked out in the group stage this time around.

In Brazil the FIFA World Cup is still in the group stages so how can I know who became world champions? The simple answer to this is that I’m writing about another football world cup, the conIFA World Football Cup: a championship played in Östersund in Swedish Sápmi: A tournament where 12 non-FIFA teams fought to become world champions.

The conIFA World Football Cup was held by the world governing football body conIFA, a confederation consisting of 21 member associations from four continents whose aim it is to be an alternative confederation for people, nations, minorities and territories that are not allowed FIFA entry. conIFA’s objectives are “Raising people through football, strengthen people, strengthen identity of people, for nations, minorities and isolated territories, respect differences and contribute to world peace”. According to conIFA, it is the leading independent confederation for non-FIFA football Associations.

conIFA however has to compete with at least three rival independent confederations to this title. The largest of these three is the Non FIFA-Board (the N.F.-Board) which according to its home page organizes 48 affiliated FAs. The N.F.-Board was established in a Belgian pub in 2003 with the aim to act as a “waiting room” for non-FIFA Football Associations who hoped to gain FIFA entry. A third confederation is the Micronational Football Association (MFA) established in 2009. MFA has 21 members and its goal is to act as an umbrella organization to micro nations participating in football. The fourth confederation is the International Island Games Association (IGA) whose main goal it is to organize the International Island Games held every second year for several European Islands and other small geographical entities.

International non-FIFA football lives an anonymous and in many ways obscures life in the shadow of the giantFIFA. Non-FIFA football suffers from low athletic level, little interest, ad hoc organization and a lack of stability and financial resources. The “national” FAs who are affiliated to conIFA, N.F.-Board, MFA and IGA represents very different groups, from internationally recognized and sovereign micro states such as Kiribati, Tuvalu and the Vatican, to geographical regions such as Occitania and Padania, islands such as Easter Island and Greenland, occupied territories such as Northern Cyprus, separated and autonomous regions such as Kurdistan and Nagorno-Karabakh, nations and peoples including the Sámi, Romani, Masai and Tamil, to peculiar “states” such as Sealand – a self-proclaimed principality – located on the closed military fortress of Rough Tower of the coast of Suffolk on the British Isles.

Despite low athletic level and poor organization, it appears that membership in one of these football federations is considered important by the member FAs. Football is the world’s leading and most popular sport and spectacle which makes it one of the most important global identity markers in our time. This in turn has made football an important ethno political tool and made the non-FIFA confederations interesting to different ethno political movements. These movements also want to utilize the power of football and therefore consider participation in international football, even at this level, as an important way to mark a nation’s existence or right to self-determination, and as an important means of various forms of nation-building projects.

This is particularly the case for Sami football which was first organized in 1979 and in 2001 was organized in Sámi Spábbáčiekčanlihttu (The Sámi Football Association, SSL). The SSL was an important member of the N.F.-Board between 2003 and 2013 both organizationally and in sporting terms. The Sámi national team won the Viva World Cup; the world cup organized by the N.F.-Board, in 2006 and came third in the same competition when it was held in Gällivarre in Swedish Sápmi in 2008 and in Padania in 2009. After a golden period in the 1980s Sámi football has struggled with low economic and organizational stability. With the exception of the participation in the Viva World Cups the period 2000 to 2013 can be described as a long walk in the wilderness. The economic mess that characterized the SSL peaked in 2013 when their funding from the Norwegian Sámi Parliament stopped because SSL was not able to explain where the parliaments’ grants of around 300,000 Norwegian Kroner from 2012 had gone. Without public funding SSL was history. So to avoid the death of Sámi football a new Sámi football federation had to be organized and FA Sápmi rose from the ashes of SSL. The new FA Sápmi deemed it necessary to cut the ties Sámi football had to N.F.-Board the last 10 years, and opted to join the newly founded conIFA instead, a confederation which incidentally is run from Luleå in Swedish Sápmi.

In the third football world championship that has taken place in Sweden – the first being the FIFA World Cup in 1958 and the second the Viva World Cup in Gällivarre in 2008 – the Sámi national team played for a new football association with a new badge on their hearts in a tournament organized by a new international football confederation. The conIFA World Football Cup was not the instant sporting success for the Sámi team as the previous three cups in 2006, 2008 2009 had been. In 2014 they went out of the tournament in the group play after losing 2-1 to Abkazia FA and 1-0 to Association Occitania de Fotbòl. This meant they had to play for 9th place, a game they lost 5-1 to Nagorno Karabakh.

Despite the lack of sporting success the conIFA tournament may prove to be important for the future of Sámi football. Maybe participation in the tournament could mark a new beginning for Sámi football and for football’s ability to be a unifying national symbol to the Sámi nation.

The winners of the conIFA World Football Cup was by the way Countea de Nissa FA (County of Nice) who beat Ellan Vannin (Isle of Man) 5-3 on penalties in the final after the game was drawn 0-0 after 90 minutes and  extra time.

About author
Helge Chr. Pedersen is Associate Professor in History in the Faculty of Humanities, Social Sciences and Education at UiT - The Arctic University of Norway, Campus Alta. Helge has research and teaching interests in the Cultural History of the Multi Ethnic Northern Norway, Norwegain Sports History and Sport, Ethnicity and Identity.
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