FIFA World Cup

The other football World Cup: The CONIFA community continues to grow and is here to stay

The 2018 tournament, hosted by London, was much bigger than previous editions.

The FIFA World Cup commences in Russia this week, with events on and off the pitch at the 32-team tournament set to dominate global media coverage for the next month.

But the World Cup is not this summer’s only festival of international football. For regions and communities that FIFA has not or will not offer membership to, CONIFA is an alternative confederation, which also organises “international” competitions. This weekend the final of the third CONIFA World Football Cup took place in England, the culmination of a ten-day tournament.

Karpatalja – a Hungarian-speaking minority from western Ukraine – was crowned champions on Saturday after defeating Northern Cyprus in the final on penalties at Enfield Town’s Queen Elizabeth II Stadium, one of ten venues across London to host matches. The breakaway Turkish Republic also lost the final of the European equivalent in similar circumstances on home soil last year.

CONIFA (Confederation of Independent Football Associations) was established in 2013 and fills a significant void for some of those entities FIFA neglects. The competition has been described as defiantly subversive of the geopolitical norm. Critics may question its relevance, yet the confederation is developing rapidly.

Building bridges

CONIFA professes to gather 166m people from 47 member entities, a mix of “nations, de-facto nations, regions, minority peoples and sports-isolated territories”. It’s a non-profit organisation that aims to “build bridges between people, nations, minorities and isolated regions all over the world through friendship, culture and the joy of playing football”.

International sporting organisations typically frame their agendas and impact in these positive terms, of course. But, for a football researcher like me, such mission statements are useful as they can then be subject to scholarly scrutiny, particularly in the case of larger confederations such as FIFA.

Preparing to represent Matabeleland, the western part of Zimbabwe. Photo credit: Joel Rookwood, Author provided
Preparing to represent Matabeleland, the western part of Zimbabwe. Photo credit: Joel Rookwood, Author provided

Academics can also look at the tournaments themselves. Recent research on sporting “mega events” has looked at whether hosting a tournament does actually promote physical activity, whether it helps the host acquire soft power (or even leads to “soft disempowerment”), and the behaviour and treatment of supporters during tournaments.

CONIFA is relatively new, and currently operates in the margins – scaled somewhere between “mega” and “minor”. Consequently, though the journalist Steve Menary has outlined the history of organised football for unrecognised countries, recent events have not yet been subject to significant scholarly scrutiny.

Though academic research specifically on CONIFA is limited, two geographers at Portland State University in Oregon have looked at the Cascadia region (the US states of Oregon and Washington, and the Canadian province of British Columbia). Their work examines how football has mobilised a shared regional narrative either side of the Canada–US border.

My own academic writing on the CONIFA tournament is in press, but a documentary I made The other World Cup: Football Across Borders was released last year and shown at the inaugural Football Collective conference. The film culminates in the 2016 World Football Cup, hosted and won by Abkhazia, a self-declared independent territory, considered by the UN to be a part of Georgia. It examines football, statehood, identity and conflict within the fractured Georgian-Abkhazian context. Despite CONIFA’s claim and objective to “leave all politics behind” therefore, its events and those involved can prove relatively political.

Appeals to football romantics

The 2018 CONIFA tournament was much bigger than previous editions. For the first time, it was hosted in a global metropolitan city and was supported by lucrative sponsorship from bookmakers Paddy Power. Matches were shown live on Facebook, record attendances were set, and the mainstream global media paid attention.

There were some governance issues, most notably the mid-competition withdrawal of Ellan Vannin (the Manx name for the Isle of Man) in a dispute over an unregistered player. Further political and governance challenges are likely in the future as CONIFA continues to develop and grow. But its expansion reflects and shapes the interests of the football community in this unique format of “international” football.

It also appeals to football romantics: for instance Matabeleland featured 60-year-old former Liverpool goalkeeper and Zimbabwe international Bruce Grobbelaar. As the behaviour of many players and supporters demonstrates however, CONIFA events also provide substantial opportunities to shape and express collective identities through football. The “other World Cup” is here to stay.

Joel Rookwood, Senior Lecturer in Sport Business Management, University of Central Lancashire

This article first appeared on The Conversation

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Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”


“Like what?”


A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”




“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:


This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.