Ostersund, Sweden – Just a few days before the start of the FIFA World Cup in Brazil, another World Cup took place in the northern hemisphere, with the champion hailing from a small county that last existed 150 years ago. It extended across portions of Italy and France and was called Contea de Nissa.
Ostersund, the hosting town, is part of Sweden. But the Sami, a nomadic population of reindeer herders, consider it the southern capital of Sapmi – also known as Lappland – a region that includes the northern portions of Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Russia.
The tournament was hosted by the recently founded Confederation of Independent Football Associations (CONIFA), a football organisation made up of teams hailing from disputed territories and long-extinct nations not affiliated with FIFA.
This alternative tournament featured 12 teams, including Abkhazia and South Ossetia, separatist territories that are formally part of the Republic of Georgia; Nagorno-Karabakh, the focal point of an unsettled conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia; Darfur, a strife-torn region of western Sudan; Kurdistan; Tamil Eelam, a proposed state within Sri Lanka; the Arameans – a team representing the descendants of the Assyro-Babylonian people; and clubs from long-lost European states such as Occitania and Padania.
“There is no prize in cash. Players that normally just represent local clubs are now competing for their whole region, and are bringing home pride and dignity for their people,” said Per-Anders Lund, the president of CONIFA.
“I will [hold] this tournament forever in my heart,” said footballer Valery Makiev, 28, from South Ossetia. “I discovered how good people are also outside my own country.”