ConIFA 2014 is an alternative to the FIFA World Cup and it is open to people and nations with no state. The aim is to empower minorities and ethnic groups who do not have an international arena to play football.
This year’s tournament takes place in Östersund, central Sweden. There are 12 teams from four continents competing in 28 matches over a week. The teams hail from autonomous or stateless regions in Europe, Asia and North America.
Kurdistan is the current world champions. During the tournament in Östersund they could go up against Samis from team Sapmi, Tamils from Sri Lanka as well as teams from Darfur and Abkhazia and from the regions Padania and Occitania. Another strong contender is the Aremeans Suryoye Football Association – the Syrian international team.
Per-Anders Blind, president of the Confederation of Independent Football Associations, or ConIFA, tells Radio Sweden that the tournament in Östersund is the toughest and biggest football competition outside FIFA.
“The teams are really strong this year,” says Blind. “Some have star players from the premiere leagues in France, Germany and Russia so it’s international top stars mixed with first and second-division players.”
“You can almost feel in the air how important this tournament is for the players. Of course everyone wants to win, but the most important thing for the individual players is that, while on a daily basis they play in a club team, here they suddenly represent their own people. When you put on the Kurdish national team shirt you represent 40 million people. This is a tremendous opportunity for them.”
Blind says the tournament is not a political event – it is not about turning football into politics. “Everybody is here for the joy of playing football and because we love the game,” he says.
Östersund was chosen as host of the tournament because it is green, clean and convenient, says Blind. Logistically, it is easy for the players to move around since journeys between venues take 15 minutes at the most.