Ten years ago, Conifa started organising the world championship football for unrecognized countries. Since then, it has sparked the imagination of a number of artists and journalists, and rightly so.

Cheering for the Tibet team at CONIFA's world cup in 2018.

Still from Grass Roots, documentary by Kevin Kraan and Pieter Symon.

Wait, what? There is a world championship of soccer for non-recognized countries? We have to go there! At the beginning of 2020, team De Facto fantasized about volunteering at this world championship called Conifa World Football Cup. This international tournament is organized by CONIFA for states and territories that are unaffiliated with Fifa, and also includes minorities and stateless peoples.

Exactly ten years ago, in 2014, Conifa started organizing this event. There have been editions in London (on behalf of the Barawa diaspora living there), Abkhazia and Sapmi, in the north of Sweden. Before Conifa, there was a predecessor world cup called Viva, which was held five times between 2006 and 2012, also for teams unaffiliated with Fifa. The last one was hosted by Kurdistan. The oldest predecessor was the Alternative Worldwide Cup of 1988, developed in Jordan.

Next to the world championships, Conifa also organizes a European Championship. The last one was in 2019, hosted by Nagorno-Karabakh (Artsakh) in June 2019. A country that no longer exists, as of January 1st, 2024. Twenty matches were played, by a total of eight teams. The South Ossetia team won the tournament with 12 points. Its player Batradz Gurtsiev was the top scorer of this tournament with 5 goals.

The 2020 world championship was to take place in Somaliland, and apart from worrying how we would travel there, we also had our doubts as to what we could contribute, knowing the slightest thing about soccer. We imagined that we could make ourselves useful folding towels for the teams that were competing or handing out drinks or something. We were happy to hear that the tournament had been moved from Somaliland to North-Macedonia, which made it a lot more feasible for us to travel there. But, as everyone knows, in March 2020 the coronavirus pandemic hit Europe and all plans were canceled.

Since then, Conifa has been gearing up for their next edition. The next world championship was planned for the summer of 2024, in the Kurdistan region, but the organization announced last month that it will be postponed for another year. We’ll just have to wait a bit. Conifa’s womens world championship was not cancelled and took place in the last couple of days. In Norwegians Bodø, the womens team of FC Sapmi took home the cup after an amazing final against the Tamil Eelam team. You can keep posted by following Conifa on their Facebookpage.

Meanwhile, we can indulge ourselves with some amazing images. As the event sparked our imagination, the same thing happened with others. We hope you will enjoy our selection of projects that were inspired from this unconventional competition.

2017’s cup in North Cyprus, as photographed by Lavinia Parlamenti & Manfredi Pantanella

Lavinia Parlamenti & Manfredi Pantanella

In 2014 photographers Lavinia Parlamenti & Manfredi Pantanella went to the north of Sweden to capture the first world championship under the name Conifa there. It was hosted by FA Sápmi. This club represents the Sami, officially recognized as a minority group in the three Scandinavian countries. The team ended 10th. The opening match was played by Darfur United and Padania FA. For the Darfur team, it was their first ever match on a grass pitch. The winner of the 2014 Conifa world cup was the County of Nice, who had only formed a team a month before the competition. For many of the competing teams, entering this competition is a chance to showcase oneself and to feel part of world football.

Be sure to have a look at the whole project by Lavinia Parlamenti and Manfredi Pantanella ‘I kick, therefore I am’. We are also looking forward to the next publication, An Atlas of Countries that “don’t exist”.

Backstage at the 2019 edition of the CONIFA worldcup in Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabach).

Lavinia Parlamenti & Manfredi Pantanella

In 2016, the event was hosted by Abkhazia (a partially-recognized state between Russia and Georgia). Some teams, like the Romani people team, had trouble traveling there and were forced to withdraw. Olga Ingurazova, a photographer based in Moscow travelled to Abkhazia to capture the event. WePresent, the art-project by Wetransfer, made a lovely interview with her here.
And you can check out her other work here as well, which includes lives in de facto states and the aftermath of war.

Team members of the Somaliland competitors. Photo by Olga Ingurazova as showcased by WePresent.

Olga Ingurazova

Cheering for the Tibet team.

still from Grass Roots, by Kevin Kraan and Pieter Symon

The 2018 Conifa World Championship was held in London, but hosted by Barawa FA, representing the Somali diaspora. Irish journalist James Hendicott was there and wrote a book about it with the wonderfull title: CONIFA: Football For The Forgotten: The Untold Story Of Football’s Alternative World Cup. Vice was also there. Over ten days and on seven non-league grounds across London, they watched sixteen teams including Tuvalu, Matabeleland, Tibet and Barawa compete for a rare chance at glory. Dutchies Kevin Kraan and Pieter Symon (present at De Facto Live #9) were also present at the London edition of the Conifa Worldcup and made a documentary about it: Grass Roots. You can check it out in full here.