Welcome to the World Football Cup, the tournament for teams outside of Fifa

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By the time Russia and Saudi Arabia’s Fifa World Cup opener begins, Conifa’s World Football Cup will have already crowned its champion.

That’s because Conifa (the Confederation of Independent Football Associations) is a football federation for all associations outside Fifa – teams like Tibet, Northern Cyprus and Tuvalu – and they’re having a tournament of their very own, this year in London.

Logos for CONIFA and the World Football Cup
(Beslan Lagulaa/Conifa)

“Many of our teams will feel like it’s a home match, so Northern Cyprus in Enfield are going to have massive crowds cheering them on, for example.”

But why have Conifa created their very own world cup?

The politically neutral charity, run by volunteers and set up in 2013, has members in the form of nations, de facto nations, regions, minority groups and sports-isolated territories. For whatever reason, their members aren’t a part of Fifa, football’s governing body, so Conifa created a competition just for them.

The first World Football Cup took place in Sweden in 2014, and the third has just got under way, featuring 16 entrants.

From Tibet, governed as an autonomous region of China, to current holders Abkhazia, a region situated in the north-western corner of Georgia which formally declared independence in 1999, the teams represent 334 million people across five continents.

Those teams will feature in 48 matches across 10 stadia in England’s capital. As Watson says, it’s about a bit more than winning a football tournament.

“A lot of people do slip through the cracks,” he said of the nations without Fifa membership. “For one reason or another, they’re not able to express their identity through football, so what we provide is somewhere for these people to play and represent what they feel their identity is.

“We feel there needs to be a different, slightly more flexible model for identity through football.”

To reach the tournament proper, teams had 18 months to play matches and win points, but because travel often isn’t possible for various reasons, they could play local club sides to accrue points and qualify.

Abkhazia v Northern Cyprus during the 2016 World Football Cup
(Beslan Lagulaa/CONIFA)

The competition is also a way for teams to demonstrate to the wider world, and to football confederations they want to be a part of, that they are worth taking seriously as a football nation.

For some teams, politics make that impossible. Tibet, for example, would almost certainly struggle to become a Fifa member without objections from China, but for others such as Tuvalu, who wish to be a part of the Fifa family, this tournament is a stage on which to make a presentation.

Tuvalu have sought Fifa membership for around 30 years now. The island in the South Pacific gained independence from the United Kingdom in 1978, but has tried and failed to become a recognised member of Fifa, with the lack of facilities a major obstacle.

The World Football Cup gives them a chance to show everyone what they’ve got.

The tournament kicked off just two weeks before the Fifa World Cup begins, but Watson was keen to stress that this was not in any way an attempt to make a point to football’s governing body.

“We’re not competing with Fifa, but we’re providing this other framework,” he said.

“The timing of our competition isn’t a coincidence, but we’re not competing with them. We’re adding to the options.”

To find out how you can live-stream the World Football Cup, click here.

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