Confederation of Indepedent Football Associations (CONIFA) Secretary general, Sascha Duerkop has hinted that his organisation is making arrangements to establish Africa Championship for the member states.
In an exclusive interview, Duerkop, who is the co-founder of the federation also adds more about the little known football body that has a total of 44 members in the world where seven members are found in Africa, and his association future plans for the continent.
SOKA 25 EAST: Some people across the globe say that CONIFA is a body that facilitates the fragility of sovereign state mostly in relation to Africa, main reason being that you operate in countries that are are not recogonised.What is your comment on that?
DURERKOP: I do strongly disagree that football is “only” a vehicle to express your love for ones nation. It is much more. It is the primes sport in the world and in many cases, indeed, it gives large groups of people something to identify with. This can be a club, a country or anything in between.
We do not “build” any identities and ask or even force anyone to identify with that. Much more, we ask people everywhere in the world: “What do you identify with?” and very often the answer is something else than one of the 192 UN members or one of the 211 FIFA members. We just provide those people to play for their “matter of heart” and represent what they identify with. Not more, not less.
And obviously, we did not invent football of nations that do not fit the definitions of the UN or FIFA. Catalonia played their initial 18 matches before the Second World War already, despite not being a sovereign country at that time.
In no way are we looking to establish countries as political identities. We just invite already-existing football national teams, representing everything from a minority to a nation state, to tell their story and unite behind a common team. In no single case did this lead to any war or fragility in any part of the world and it is hard to understand where that fear is coming from, to be fair.
Much more, letting “minorities” entities participate in the global community raises those very people, individually and collectively, and connects them to the rest of the world within the peaceful framework that Fair Play gives all of us. We are very proud that we were able to put the Chagos Islands or Darfur in the headlines again and gave the concerned people a chance to tell their very own story, instead of people talking about them.
Finally, we are of course always looking to build bridges, even in complicated and often complex political contexts. A deep friendship of the teams from Barawa and Somaliland, for example, clearly prove that football is more inclusive than it is dividing.
Do you feel that your organization adds value to the development of Football in Africa basing on challenges that you face as federation in this part of the world?
I think that our work in Africa can be massive for the development of the sports across Africa, because we are mainly active where FIFA and the national FAs are not. Just as one example, we might look at Matabeleland: ZIFA is very much Harare-centered. All the matches of the national team are played in Harare and all FIFA sanctioned.
However, the 3 million inhabitants of Bulawayo and Matabeleland South and North provinces, in the far west of the country, rarely profit from that development. This is a quarter of the Zimbabwean population alone! They do feel quite “left behind” by the Zimbabwean government, FIFA and ZIFA. We are making aware of that unjustice and give Matabeleland the chance to field an international team and represent themselves, telling their story to the world.
I am certain that this can have a massive success to Matabeleland and the football development in the region, as they finally have something to aim for,the participation in a World Football Cup!
Other examples, like Somaliland and Western Sahara, are even more obvious. As both are not recognized as countries, there is no international support for any football development there and while football is extremely popular in both regions, there is nearly no action or hope for international competition.
Finally, there is Darfur as an example. The Darfur team that plays within the CONIFA system is completely made up from refugees living (and often born in!) in the camps in the desert in Eastern Chad. The refugees there feel forgotten by the world, left in the desert without any hope of change. We give them a very unique chance to raise their voice and have some joy through playing football!
What is the creteria for any state to become a member of the federation and on top of that what are the privileges of a member state?
Teams willing to play for CONIFA cannot be FIFA members, yet. Furthermore they should represent a minority, a historical region or a nation. We do have 10 criteria and one of them must be fulfilled to be eligible for CONIFA.
The privileges of CONIFA memberships are diverse: Every member gets the right to attend and vote on all of our Annual General Meetings.
Furthermore, they will have the chance to play internationally recognized friendly matches anytime and participate in different CONIFA tournaments. We are currently starting to establish an African Committee and hope to establish an African Football Cup soon. In addition, we will have the first youth tournaments, disabled matches and women football tournaments soon. We offer all that to our members on a very regular basis!
Last, but not least, we give the team to tell their story globally through our social media channels and the homepage and use the “CONIFA network”, which can help from fundraising over finding shirt sponsors to linking the team with professionals in different fields.
Does CONIFA work with the other football governing bodies like FIFA,CAF and what are the responses of the big states where those federations are found,for example the Darfur case with the Sudan goverment?
We are not actively collaborating with either FIFA or CAF. We have been in touch with both organisations before and FIFA lately wrote us a letter stating that they “applaud our work”. That said, the communication and collaboration is mainly informally, but positive. We had issues with several national FAs, mainly in Europe, but never with the global or continental branches of FIFA.
The African states, like Sudan, did not yet react to our actions at all.
Is CONIFA having any plan to hold Africa championships among Africa member states in future and on top of that is there a hope to have more members from Africa after the possible exit of Zanzibar?
Yes, we are absolutely looking to establish an African Cup of Nations as soon as possible! Our membership count in Africa is growing fast and we are in touch with at least 10 more teams from the continent.
Furthermore, we are all aware how important and beautiful football in Africa is and would love to play a small role in developing the game all over the continent. Of course, we would also love to add more members in Africa as well. We are in talks with a couple of Northern African teams currently and are positive to have new members on board soon!
Yes, ZFA will automatically lose its CONIFA membership, if they are accepted as a FIFA member. We are extremely pleased that ZFA made it into CAF now and hope that FIFA will allow them to join soon as well! They deserve the biggest possible stage for sure and all the support a FIFA membership can give them.
PROFILE: CONIFA MEMBERS IN AFRICA
Barawa: Barawa is the capital of the region of Barawa in the Southern part of Somalia. The region is inhabited by the Bravanese People, who are represented by the national team. Currently, the team is managed from London, UK, and mainly consist of players living in the UK diaspora. However, the team is constantly working on “kicking back” to Barawa. In early April they will host a charity game to collect well-needed funds to donate to Barawa and be used to fight the horrible current drought and its causes. Finally, the team started to draft first players from the city of Barawa and investigates the possibilites to build a stadium or at least a training pitch in the region.
The Chagos Islands are an archipelago lying halfway between Madagascar and India in the Indian Ocean. The Islands are home to the Chagossians, the native people that got deported by the UK government in the 1970s unlawfully. The Chagossians today live in the UK, Mauritius and the Seychelles and are forbidden to even visit their homeland, as the USA rented the Island chain to build their biggest airbase in the region – Diego Garcia.
Darfur is a region in Western Sudan that is suffering from a full-scale war since 2003 at least. More than 4 million people flew from the war and are now refugees, either internally displaced within Sudan or abroad. The largest group of refugees, at least 300,000 people, fled to the Western neighbor of Chad and was brought to large refugees in the middle of the Sahara desert there. Ever since, the refugees stayed in the camps under horrible conditions and without any small sign of hope for their future. Within the camps, a US-led NGO, set-up a football movement which united the camp inhabitants and formed the national team of Darfur.
Matabeleland is the Western part of todays Zimbabwe. They used to live in the Ndebele Kingdom for many years, led by the Ndebele People, the natives of the region around Bulawayo. Following the Gukurahundi, a genocide against the Ndebele People in Zimbabwe in the 1980s, more than 1 million Ndebele People left Zimbabwe and are now living in South Africa and Botswana. The Matabeleland national team today re-unites the Ndebele People again and gives them an international representation.
Somaliland is in the Northern part of the Horn of Africa, wedged between Djibouti and Somalia. It is a non recognized country that is a role model for the region, in terms of economic development and stability. The Somaliland national team consists of Somalilanders abroad and from Somaliland itself. They participated in the World Football Cup in 2016 and were closely followed by the public back home and accompanied by the mayor of their capital, Hargeysa.
Western Sahara is a partially recognized country in the North-West of the continent. Large parts of their territory is controlled by Moroccan and Mauritanian forces, but a small strip of the land is controlled and governed by the Saharouis, the native people of the region. They set up a national team representing their nation and people and are hopeful to soon start playing again internationally.
Zanzibar is an island off the Eastern Coast of Africa. Zanzibar united with Tanganyika to form the nation state of Tanzania, but remains a distinct nation and fielded an own national team ever since. They play in various international tournaments against many of the African FIFA members and just recently, finally, joined CAF!