Karabakh hosting most prestigious of unrecognised sporting events
The unrecognized European Football Championship under the auspices of ConIFA is being held in Karabakh on June 1-9.
Eight teams from unrecognized or partially recognized republics are taking part. For all of them, ConIFA tournaments are the only chance to compete, since they cannot enter large global tournaments.
What is ConIFA, who is participating, what are the prizes, how is Stepanakert hosting the tournament: all the details in short.
What is ConIFA?
ConIFA stands for the Confederation of Independent Football Associations. It was created in 2013 and involves the unification of teams and organizations that are not included in FIFA or in the continental confederations, because these republics are not recognized by the wider international community.
ConIFA declares absolute political neutrality and today has 40 teams.
The headquarters of the organization is located in Sweden in the city of Luleå.
It was decided to bring in the unrecognized football tournament to Stepanakert a year ago, and since then in Karabakh preparations for the tournament have been underway.
For all visitors, the fee has been cancelled for a single-entry tourist visa. Matches are divided between four cities, and in a year four stadiums were completely put in order.
11 hotels were proposed for athletes, judges and journalists.
The authorities also invited local residents to allow foreign guests into their homes as part of a wider homestay programme, to which more than 60 families responded.
Gurgen is one of those who joined the programme. His son, 15-year-old Samvel, who is fond of football, begged him to do so.
“We have fans here who represent Western Armenia [ed. Officially, the Eastern Anatolia region in Turkey – JAMnews]. It seems that we are all Armenians, but it turned out that we speak different Armenian languages and constantly switch to English. But now I have two teams for which I support, ‘Artsakh’ and ‘Western Armenia’”, Samvel says on the way to the stadium.
Guests and hosts
Together with the Karabakh team, eight teams are participating in the tournament. For various reasons, the Donetsk and Lugansk republics [ed. unrecognized republics that the whole international community considers part of Ukraine], as well as Transnistria [ed. Also an unrecognized republic, which the whole international community considers part of Moldova], refused to participate.
Among the participants there are the partially recognized republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
Albanians also arrived under the flag of Chameria, the Italians under the auspices of Padania, Hungarians from the Székei region and representatives of Sapmi, better known as Lapland.
One of the most unusual participants is the Western Armenia team [ed. Eastern Anatolia region in Turkey]. This region has no territory, but there is a president and other government officials. The descendants of the victims of the Armenian genocide in the Ottoman Empire, scattered around the world, play for this team.
The level of commands is quite different. In the group stage games, it is clear that strong teams from Abkhazia, Padania and Sapmi have gathered quite professional football players, some of whom compete in reputable recognized championships. But other participants of the tournament are frankly amateur teams.
The opening ceremony was attended by two delegations – one led by the President of South Ossetia, the other was led by the Foreign Minister of Abkhazia.
Entrance to the ConIFA Championship opening ceremony took place without tickets, and volunteers are conducting city tours.
The stars of the opening ceremony were the famous musical group from France Gipsy Kings and the famous Armenian singer Sirusho, who is especially popular in Karabakh. Sirusho is the daughter-in-law of the second Armenian President Robert Kocharyan, who came from Karabakh.
In total, the opening ceremony was attended by more than ten thousand people, which is how many people the Stepanakert stadium accomodates, but the audience was all around: on the roofs of nearby houses and on the verandas of nearby cafes.
The final of the tournament will take place on June 9, the national teams of Abkhazia and Padania are considered favorites.