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World Unity Football Alliance: What it means for CONIFA and the United Koreans in Japan

Like all international football associations CONIFA was affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, resulting in the cancellation of the 2020 CONIFA World Football Cup. The non-FIFA organisation then suffered another setback last month, as it emerged that several member associations split to form a rival organisation: the World Unity Football Alliance. Our CONIFA correspondent George Slade looks at the past, present and future of non-FIFA football, and how the United Koreans in Japan fit into it.

(Image via worldunitycup.org)

This year has arguably been the most difficult year for CONIFA in its history. Since its foundation in 2013 it had experienced multiple years of uninterrupted growth, attracting dozens of member associations and holding regular World Football Cups and European Football Cups. The problems began earlier this year, as multiple board members and volunteers left CONIFA due to disagreements with its future direction. Among the claimed problems, the most common appeared to be disappointment with the lack of focus on women's football and too much power and attention given to the richer, stronger nations that were predominantly based in Europe. As the stated aim of CONIFA was to give international representation to all peoples overlooked by FIFA, it appeared that CONIFA had fallen short of its original aim.

This is not to say that CONIFA has not done tremendous work. It has helped raise awareness for a huge amount of disputed territories, diasporas, minority groups, and political and cultural identities. It allowed players to represent the group that they identified with the most, gave members of those communities a chance to proudly wave their flags and wear their team colours, and neutral observers were able to watch competitive international football without the effects of the big money that has taken root in most of the professional game. Membership to CONIFA even possibly helped prove to the OFC that association members Tuvalu and Kiribati are deserving of more support, as it was announced this year that they would be receiving funding from the OFC and would be able to compete in OFC tournaments despite not being full member associations.

The world keeps evolving, however, and while CONIFA has done good work, last month several member associations broke away in the same way that the board members did earlier in the year. They were lead by Darfur United, the representative of the region of Sudan that has suffered from genocide and civil war, who published an open letter on social media detailing the reasons for the split. They explained that Darfur United was not just about football, it was about creating positive change for its people and "promoting human rights, equity, inclusivity, and amplify the voices of the marginalised around the globe." They also explained that they would be "joining other value-aligned teams to form a new collaborative initiative, the World Unity Football Alliance, to serve as a platform to further our mission." The values that are stated on the website are "empathy, compassion, equity, honesty, and respect for universal human rights."

As of the time of writing their are eight other teams alongside Darfur United that have been mentioned as members of WUFA on the organisation's website. They are: Chagos Islands (the diaspora team of the Indian Ocean territory, whose entire population was evicted by the UK government); Matabeleland (the homeland of the Ndebele people in western Zimbabwe); Karen (an ethnic group of south/southeastern Myanmar, that has been oppressed by the government and calls for a greater representation of minorities); Tamil Eelam (the Tamil-speaking areas of Sri Lanka and the Tamil diaspora); Barawa (the Somali diaspora in England); Surrey (a county in southern England); Western Sahara (an occupied territory in Africa that claims independence from Morocco); Parishes of Jersey (British Crown Dependency in the English Channel). Several of these teams were profiled in greater detail when the draw was held for the now cancelled 2020 CONIFA World Football Cup.

It should also be worth noting that the website is updating fairly regularly and there could be more members soon. On social media there has also been engagement with the teams of the US state of Hawaii and the northern England county of Yorkshire. Whether these teams are actually looking to join or are just expressing some solidarity is unclear at this moment in time.

As WUFA was only founded in late June of this year and the COVID-19 pandemic has ceased international football for the time being, the structure of football in the alliance is unclear. It does seem very likely that they will host a tournament, as the chosen name of the website is World Unity Cup. Whether WUFA will grow to the size that they can justify continental tournaments remains to be seen.

CONIFA is still the larger and pre-eminent non-FIFA organisation, but it has now lost around one-sixth of its members. If it does not address its internal problems, more teams could leave to join WUFA. CONIFA has made some changes this year as they have replaced the departing board members and volunteers, given themselves a new logo, and announced the formation of a South American committee. CONIFA is clearly not standing still, which means that we are in unprecedented times of having two major non-FIFA international organisations coexisting. The previous major non-FIFA organisation was the N.F.-Board, which collapsed before the foundation of CONIFA.

It will be interesting to see how these two organisations live together. Teams that experienced a lot of success with CONIFA may opt to remain with them. Also, if WUFA does purely focus on the promotion of values, then CONIFA can still remain the home for teams that want to stay more neutral. This is how the United Koreans in Japan may base their decision. They have qualified for every World Football Cup since they were founded, and the remain silent outside of football matters. They currently seem very content with being an outlet for members of their community to represent themselves on an international stage, and after their difficult history they have earned that right.

[READ: United Koreans in Japan qualify for the 2020 CONIFA World Football Cup]

One of the things that makes non-FIFA football so appealing is that the teams can control their own narrative in ways that they are not afforded in other outlets, and be the team that they want the world to view them as. If a team feels more aligned to either WUFA or CONIFA, then it is their right to choose their ideal home. The whole reason for the existent of the two organisations is that FIFA is by nature very exclusive in terms of membership. Non-FIFA football needs to be open, and that means that multiple organisations can exist alongside each other and should not see themselves as rivals. The moment that one organisation starts to portray itself as the 'true' non-FIFA organisation and all others are just playing outside 'their' system, is the moment that organisation loses all legitimacy and credibility. Let's hope that WUFA and CONIFA members still collaborate and play matches against each other, allowing the two organisations to learn and grow and become the best possible versions of themselves.


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