No Flags Attached
Somaliland, Abkhazia, Punjab. Did you ever heard about this places? They are among a list of unrecognized nations in the world that despite not competing in any major league, they struggle to keep soccer alive. Now they are trying to organize tournaments among what they call the Federation of Unrecognized Nations, reports Roads and Kingdoms, a well-know culture and travel website based in Barcelona.
In 2016, Somaliland, Panjab, Abkhazia and other nine teams competed in the 2016 World Football Cup organized by the Confederation of Independent Football Associations (CONIFA), a soccer federation for unrecognized nations. CONIFA slogan is "Freedom to Play Football".
We may live in a world divided into nation-states, but the definition of statehood is often ambiguous. The traditional definition under international law is that a state is an entity that has a permanent population, a defined territory, a government, and the capacity to enter into relations with other states. But the truth is that the definition of statehood within the current international system is circular: to be recognized as a state by other countries, other countries have to recognize you.
In the context of the World Football Cup, another useful definition comes from noted international relations scholar Frank Zappa: “You can’t be a real country unless you have a beer and an airline—it helps if you have some kind of football team, or some nuclear weapons, but at the very least you need a beer.” Abkhazia has no airline—the Georgian government won’t allow commercial flights into the territory and Sukhumi’s airport is used only by the Russian military—and certainly no nuclear weapons. But it does have a light national lager—Sukhumskoe—and an impressive football team. Devoutly Muslim Somalilanders don’t drink alcohol, but now they at least have a football team.
ConIFA is where “nations,” in the cultural rather than political sense, compete when they don’t meet the threshold of statehood required for membership in bodies like FIFA, the IOC, or for that matter, the UN General Assembly.
Read the full story in Roads and Kingdoms.