A World Cup With A Conscience

by | Apr 13, 2018

There is a lot of agonising going on at the moment amongst some football supporters about how we might be able to enjoy this summer’s World Cup finals in Russia with a clean conscience. It’s a difficult decision, of course. The World Cup feels as though it’s a part of the DNA of many of us. We can all remember our first tournament – the old adage that “the best World Cup finals is that which took place closest to your tenth birthday” still rings true for me – and the rhythm with which it comes about – every four years without fail, as regular as clockwork – is a beat by which many of us could set the rhythm to the soundtrack to our autobiographies.

But it’s tainted, and we all know that. The appointment of Gianni Infantino as the president of FIFA may have resulted in fewer ludicrous verbal gaffes of the type regularly perpetrated by his predecessor Sepp Blatter, but there has been no noticeable change in the overall stench coming from world football’s governing body. Last September, Miguel Maduro, a former head of FIFA’s independent governance and review committee, told the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee that FIFA’s leadership tried to persuade him not to block Russian Deputy Prime Minister Vitaly Mutko from being re-elected to its top committee, a symptom of a resistance to meaningful change within the organisation that now seems shot through it like dry rot.

What’s a little website like this place to do, though? We are fans. There’s no question about that, even if we’re not afraid to be critical of the game, those that gain their employment from it, and those that run it. Indeed, 200% started as a website dedicated to the 2006 World Cup finals in Germany, with the idea of carrying on afterwards only really being decided as that tournament came to an end. There have been a lot of changes over the intervening years, but Russia 2018 will be our fourth World Cup finals and we have traditionally done everything that we can, given the modest resources that a handful of people with full-time jobs elsewhere can manage. If it’s possible for a website to have DNA – newsflash: it isn’t, but I’m stretching a metaphor to breaking point here – then the World Cup finals are in the DNA of this one.

As such, I’ve had to think very long and very hard about whether this site should even bother with covering the 2018 World Cup finals. There have definitely been points at which I’ve started to feel that I couldn’t do it in any conscience, but after having given it careful consideration I’ve taken the decision that we will do, although the tone of our coverage will be very different to before. There may be one or two previews of specific teams, but the usual building up that we get up to here will probably be absent. We may or may not live blog matches, as we did for the last tournament four years ago and the European Championships two years ago. That decision hasn’t been made final yet. All I can say for certain as of this moment is that my personal enthusiasm for the World Cup finals – and I speak from the perspective of somebody who didn’t miss a live finals match (apart from fixture clashes) between 1982 and 2002 – has never felt lower and now, and that now, a couple of months from the start of the tournament, it doesn’t feel as though it’s going to grow very much.

Over the course of the week and a half prior to the start of the tournament in Russia, however, there is an international football tournament taking place that we can get our teeth into. The ConIFA World Football Cup is run, fairly obviously, by ConIFA, the Confederation of Independent Football Associations. ConIFA is the international governing body for Non-FIFA affiliated Associations for football, futsal, and beach soccer, and this will be its third of this nature – they also hold a European Championship – following on from those held in 2014 and 2016. Its World Football Cup is for states, minorities, stateless peoples and regions that remain unaffiliated to FIFA. Under  ConIFA rules, the “host nation” is defined as the ConIFA member that heads the organising committee for the tournament, which does not necessarily mean that it needs to be played in the host’s territory.

The first tournament was “hosted” by Sapmi (which may be more familiar to British readers as “Lapland”, though this is now considered a pejorative term by some) and held in Östersund, in Sweden. The second was held in Abkhazia, a partially-recognised, disputed territory in north-western Georgia. This year’s tournament is being hosted by the Barawa Football Association and held in London between the thirty-first of May and the tenth of June. Previous tournaments had featured twelve teams, but for this summer the number has been raised to sixteen and the names of the clubs hosting matches – Sutton United, Enfield Town. Bromley, Haringey Borough, Fisher FC, Carshalton Athletic, Befont Sports, Aveley, Dorking Wanderers and Slough Town – will already be known to those who are familiar with non-league football.

This week has already seen this year’s tournament tinged by tragedy. On Wednesday, El-Mahfoud Melad, goalkeeper for the Western Sahara – who are not appearing in London this summer – was amongst the 257 people killed when a military plane crashed shortly after take-off from Algiers, whilst yesterday five people were killed and ten injured when a bomb exploded during a match in a stadium in Barawe, in Southern Somalia (the Barawa team competing this summer is largely made up of members of the Somali diaspora living in London, hence the city’s staging of matches.)

Interest in this summer’s competition seems to be bubbling along quite nicely, and over the next few weeks we’ll be looking back at the two previous tournaments and profiling the teams taking part, and during the tournament we expect to be at the final, which is due to be held at Enfield Town’s QE2 Stadium on the tenth of June. Full schedule details are available here, along with arrangements for the ticketing of matches. We look forward to welcoming you back here for the build-up to a tournament that is unlike anything that we’ve ever covered on this site before.

As an aside, I feel as though I should say a little about the politics surrounding all of this. The current situation in Syria has had no impact in either direction upon the reservations that I already held over the 2018 World Cup. The implementation of VAR for it has far more to do with my personal perspective on it than anything that has been said by Theresa May, Donald Trump, Emmanuel Macron or Vladimir Putin over the last few days. I am also aware of the fact that there is a political edge to non-FIFA affiliated football. There are rights and wrongs to discussing this and I have no intention of making our coverage of the ConIFA World Football Cup a discussion about global geopolitics, so, while there will be an extent to which politics and sport inevitably overlap, we will be trying to focus on the football side of things.