Eurasia Net – Just about everyone knows that the FIFA World Cup football tournament gets underway June 12 in Brazil. But in a parallel football universe, a little-known tournament has already been completed, and the champion is a land that stretches across portions of France and Italy.
The alternative tournament featured 12 teams representing internationally unrecognized nations, places like Abkhazia and South Ossetia, separatist territories that are formally part of the Republic of Georgia, as well as Nagorno-Karabakh, the focal point of an unsettled conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia. Teams representing Darfur, a strife-torn region of western Sudan, Kurdistan and Tamil Eelam also participated, as did clubs from some long-lost or wanna-be nations of Europe, such as Occitania, Padania and Countea de Nissa.
Ultimately, it was the team from Countea de Nissa that hoisted the championship trophy after beating the Isle of Man on penalty kicks in the June 8 final.
The eight-day tournament was staged entirely in Östersund, a town in central Sweden that is about a five-hour train trip from Stockholm and a far cry from Brazil. The governing body that sanctioned the competition was the recently formed Confederation of Independent Football Associations (CONIFA), which portrays itself as an “organization for people, nations and sportingly isolated regions whom share the joy of playing international football.”
Befitting a tournament of nations that exist on the fringes of the international community, CONIFA’s football soiree was a low-key affair. So low-key, in fact, that the number of spectators at most matches numbered in the dozens and the event’s chief sponsor was an online gambling outfit called Nordicbet.
Sparse attendance didn’t seem to bother Per-Anders Lund, CONIFA’s chief executive. He preferred to tout his organization’s aim of promoting better “global relations and international understanding.”
“There is no prize in cash, players that normally just represent local clubs, they are now competing for their whole region. … They are bringing home pride and dignity for their people,” Lund said.