CONIFA: the other world cup

There’s a World Cup coming up this summer. I know FIFA is corrupt on an epic scale, that cheering for England is a perennially disappointing experience, and that really I shouldn’t bother. But it only comes round every four years. Four years, it transpires, is just long enough to forget. I am, quietly, rather looking forward to the world cup.

It’s called the World Cup, but of course it doesn’t really represent the world very well. Even in its expanded format, there’s no India or China. In fact, only four out of the top ten largest countries by population have qualified, so most of the world has to choose a neutral party to support – I always go with Costa Rica.

For some people groups, participation in the world cup is not just unlikely, but impossible. And that’s why there’s another competition kicking off in London this week. It’s called the CONIFA World Football Cup (that word order no doubt satisfying FIFA’s lawyers) and brings together the people groups that can’t take part in the official one.

There are a few reasons why you might not fit into FIFA’s system. In the case of Tuvalu, you have every right to be represented but have spent decades trying to get FIFA’s attention. But you might be a semi-state, like Greenland, Monaco or Western Sahara, and therefore not eligible. Maybe your nation is subsumed within another country, like Tibet or Zanzibar. Perhaps your identity is regional rather than national, like Quebec or Panjab. A browsing of the CONIFA membership throws up a whole range of minority identities and names straight out of the Atlas of Improbable Places.

CONIFA creates a place for these marginalised groups and unrecognised nations to compete, and it does so as a non-profit organisation with a commitment to ethics and positive international relations. It’s a great idea, and if you’re in or around London, see if there’s a match you can get to.


  1. There are a great many reasons to diss the football World cup but the absence of India and China isn’t one. They competed in the qualifying stages but just weren’t good enough. Different countries have different sporting interests. India of course priortises cricket. They have won the cricket world cup twice. That is also unrepresentative.

    I think it’s rather good that the biggest countries don’t dominate everything. Rugby and New Zealand, Cricket and the West Indies (a while ago). Salutary lessons that focused Davids can beat Goliaths.

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