The World Cup For Everyone Else
Provence (in white) faced off against the Kingdom of the two Sicilies in this week’s Viva World Cup.
By MAX COLCHESTER
Provence kicked off the tournament with a stirring performance against Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. Iraqi Kurdistan, which hopes to host the tournament someday, looks like a fairly decent side, while the local Gozo team may have its hands full if it has to tangle with Padania.
In other news: Tibet and Greenland dropped out, citing a lack of funds, and the Sami team couldn’t come because the president of its association didn’t organize a team and an attempt to oust him failed. "It was a dark day for Sami football," says Hakan Kuorak, the coup leader.
As you might have gathered, we’re not talking about the FIFA World Cup?the one that begins this month in South Africa and includes soccer behemoths like Argentina, Brazil, England, Germany and Italy. Every two years since 2006, an organization called the New Federation Board has hosted something it calls the Viva World Cup?a tournament that operates by a slightly different set of standards.
Basically, if you hail from a tribal area, an agricultural province, an occupied nation, a semiautonomous region, an ancient city-state, a disenfranchised minority enclave or a nation that doesn’t get any respect from soccer’s international governing body, this is the tournament for you. "The goal is ideological," says Luc Misson, a Belgian lawyer and vice president of the New Federation Board. "It’s about allowing peoples to exist through sport."
FIFA’s World Cup is a quadrennial competition between the recognized soccer nations. Its guidelines state that only one soccer association can be recognized per country. Of course, England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland aren’t separate countries, but because England created the rules and played the world’s first international match against Scotland in 1872, an exception has been made.
For everyone else, there’s the Viva. The NFB staged the first such event in 2006, three years after its founding. The Viva World Cup name was supposed to sound like the original. The group named its championship trophy after Nelson Mandela, even though the former South African president has nothing to do with the organization.
One of the teams recognized by the NFB consists of the Sami, an indigenous population that hails from a region, sometimes called Lapland, stretching across northern Norway, Finland and Sweden. They say that playing together reminds them of their culture and language.
"I am proud to play as it means a lot to the Sami people," says Jan Egil Brekke, the Sami captain, who has played for his team since 1998. The 35-year-old plays professional soccer for a second-tier Norwegian club called Alta Idrettsforening.
Others are hoping that the competition will help draw attention to their people’s plight. The Iraqi Kurds have been granted an autonomous region within Iraq and would like to join FIFA. But FIFA considers them to be Iraqis. The next Viva World Cup, in 2012, will likely be held in Iraqi Kurdistan, and the Kurdistan Football Association hopes the event will showcase the region and attract business.
"It is time that people recognized and learned about our country," says Sarhang Abdulkhaliq, a spokesman for the KFA. He said that most of all, the 2012 event will prove that Kurdistan is "100% safe," in spite of the images of the Iraq war many people have.
The Iraqi Kurdistan team, most of whom play for Kurdistan club teams, already has made its mark on this year’s Viva, beating the southern Italian team Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, 4-1, to qualify for the knock-out stages.
The tournament has been blighted by in-fighting and a lack of funds. Of the nine teams expected at the event in Malta, three pulled out at the last minute, including Tibet and Greenland?a country FIFA doesn’t recognize in part because it’s too cold to grow grass there.
The first Viva World Cup in 2005 was canceled when hosts Northern Cyprus said they didn’t want Kurdistan to take part for political reasons, says Jean-Luc Kit, a 48-year-old business developer who co-founded the competition. In 2006, South Cameroon’s team was barred entry to France because the players didn’t have visas.
At a recent match featuring the Padanian team, which represents several regions in northern Italy, Mr. Kit had to walk around a stadium removing flags depicting the crest of the Lega Nord, an Italian political party that wants to create an autonomous northern Italian state separate from the poorer south.
"There is a fear that there could be an element of nationalism" creeping into the project, Mr. Misson says. "We may have to draw up a charter at some point."
As many as 200 nonrecognized teams could join the NFB, says Mr. Kit. Easter Island, a territory of Chile, signed up recently. Sealand, an old military fortress off the coast of England that claims to be an independent sovereign state, is a provisional member. It is organizing its first official match in London.
Mr. Kit says he wants to include teams from Quebec and the northern Spanish region of Catalonia. Even the Vatican’s soccer team is being tapped to join. He is also looking for a sponsor to cover the costs of travel and hosting the event.
Not all the participants take Viva seriously. Though Provence has been part of France since 1486, many of its people spoke a local dialect until the early 20th century. Thierry Marcad?, one of the NFB’s founders, says he has no nationalist agenda and simply thought a Provence team would be fun. His team doesn’t train much, and in the past two Viva World Cups won just two games out of eight.
"We don’t have any fans yet," says Mr. Marcad?. "But interest is building."
Three teams withdrew from this week’s Viva World Cup, leaving six participants.
Iraqi Kurdistan (Iraq)
Kingdom of the Two Sicilies (Italy)