The FIFA World Cup may be the biggest sporting event in the world, but from a geopolitical perspective there’s another tournament worth following: the Confederation of Independent Football Association World Football Cup, which held its first games at the Jämtkraft Arena, in Östersund, Sweden from June 1-8. Established in 2013, ConIFA is an organization that unites the football teams of nations, counties, and provinces that would like to be autonomous, but are not officially recognized.
The stadium, which looks less than packed in the tournament’s pictures, can fit about 6,000 spectators—just the size it would need to host all of ConIFA’s Facebook fans. Tickets were sold for a mere €11 ($15) (free for under 15)—a paltry sum compared to the thousands forked over for matches in Brazil.
As of now, 20 clubs are members of the association. They pay a yearly membership fee of €50 ($67) for individual players and €500 for clubs (individual supporters can join too for €25). Some teams, like Kurdistan, had previously participated in the Viva World Cup, another non-FIFA world cup for unrecognized nations that was last held in 2012.
At ConIFA, Europe was the most represented continent, with 13 teams, while no team hailed from Oceania or South America. North America has two member teams, Quebec and the northern region of Cascadia (between US and Canada)—Texas and Vermont don’t appear to be terribly interested in soccer.
Out of all the members, the following 12 teams accepted the invitation to compete for the cup:
- Aramean Suryoye
- Ellan Vannin
- South Ossetia
- County of Nice
- Darfur United
- Tamil Eelam
These teams represent different geopolitical situations—some have few resources and a short history of training. The Darfur United team, for instance, was brought over from a refugee camp. Nagorno Karabakh, on the other hand, which presented itself as a de facto country, has its own independent football league. Padania, in northern Italy, looked only to have the world recognize its history and didn’t claim to be a nation. The players, excited to join an international competition, included Enoch Balotelli, the brother of Italy’s famed striker, Mario Balotelli.
Twenty-eight matches were played in total:
Below are photos of the top three teams:
, representing the historical region around the city of Nice, is ConIFA’s world champion team but lost its independent denomination in 1818.
Second place Ellan Vannin is the Manx, or Gaelic, name for the Island of Man (located off the coast of Great Britain).
Correction: an earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the Arameans Suryoye team represented the Assyrian people.