Have you heard about the non-FIFA European Championships?

The CONIFA federation may be one of the most fascinating International football associations that you’ve never heard of.

So what is CONIFA?

CONIFA – The Confederation of Independent Football Associations – is the governing body for non-FIFA affiliated football associations.

It was founded in 2013 to oversee international competition among the non-FIFA affiliated associations in the world and is based in Luleå, Sweden.

Sascha Düerkop, the association’s General Secretary summed it up when he said it is “representing nations, minorities, isolated dependencies or cultural regions. Our main goal is to give football outsiders overseen by FIFA or left behind by their mothers country FA the chance to win their place on a global stage and advance football wise and personally. Most of our member’s players do not have the chance to regularly play international football or are not valid to play for any of the FIFA members. Others, even if there is a theoretically opportunity to play for a FIFA member FA, have the feeling to represent a foreign country than their own. We give them the chance to play for the entity they feel part of in the bottom of their hearts.”

It’s actually more than just football as Duerkop explains: “We do have many values and aims off the football pitch. One of the main reasons CONIFA exists is that we want to bridge the world and bring people together from all over the world. This should be done in a way which leaves all politics behind. We do not judge if our members deserve political independence. We want to put them all on the world map by showing their members and people to the world and give them the chance to represent themselves. Politically we are 100 percent neutral and the only thing we do is making aware of our members. This leads to people thinking or educating themselves about the countries/minorities/regions they come from. Each player, in that sense, is an ambassador of his nation or people.”

CONIFA’s governance differs somewhat from that of FIFA. It expressly uses the term “members” rather than “countries” or “states” and it aims to support minorities – such as indigenous peoples, linguistic minorities or is a UN non-self governing territory (examples include Guam, the Cayman Islands and the British Virgin Islands). The organisation also endeavours to support the women’s game by encouraging it’s members to invest in women’s football teams.

This year the event will be the biggest so far, number of participant teams is only one clear indication of this fact

Who takes part?

Some of the CONIFA members are fascinating.

There’s Sapmi – a football team representing the Sami people who inhabit parts of Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia.

Szekely Land – a side representing the Szekelys (ethnic Hungarians) of Romania.

The United Koreans in Japan – a side representing the Korean population in Japan. Interesting, it does not distinguish between former North Korean and former South Korean citizens.

Any closer to home?

Yes, a couple. There’s the Parishes of Jersey – a side which represents the Channel Island and there’s also a Yorkshire side. Both sides have actually played each other with the Jersey side triumphing 2-1. There was even coverage of the game on BBC Radio Jersey.

What tournaments does it hold?

The association hosted its first Conifa World Cup in 2014, one year after it was founded, with the County of Nice winning the tournament. Following that success, CONIFA announced its first European Cup in 2015 with Padania (an organisation which represents Northern Italian states) the winners.

Since then, CONIFA has held two World Cups, two European Cups and there’s future plans for Africa, America, Asia and Oceania Cups plus its first Women’s World Cup. It’s an impressive tally for an organisation which is just six years of age.

What’s coming up soon?

. In 2019, the European Cup will be hosted by the Republic of Artsakh, which is part of Azerbaijan. Twelve sides will take place.

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