In the opening match on Sunday afternoon, Kurdistan will take on Székely Land, a Hungarian-speaking part of Romania. Other participants in the tournament include Somaliland and the Chagos Islands. None of the participants are UN members states.
The final lineup of the tournament has changed after a number of teams withdrew. The County of Nice declined to participate owing to “organisational restructuring”, the Isle of Man pulled out because the UK government advises against travel to Abkhazia, and the Aymara people from South America could not travel after promised funding from the Chilean government did not come through, according to tournament organisers.
The tournament is run by Conifa, which represents national sides unable to joinFifa, the world football body. The first tournament took place in 2014 in Östersund, Sweden, where the County of Nice beat the Isle of Man in the final and the Arameans beat South Ossetia in the third-place playoff.
Conifa’s general secretary, Sascha Düerkop, said the tournament gave unrecognised states a chance to play international football, and complained that Fifa’s regulations were often unfair or inconsistent.
“It is still absolutely not clear or transparent who can be a member of Fifa,” said Düerkop. Gibraltar and Kosovo were recently made members of Uefa and are thus eligible to play in international tournaments, despite not being UN member states.
“We absolutely applaud the decision that both were finally allowed into Fifa, as surely they are the only FAs that have de facto governmental power of the territories mentioned. But the same is true for the Abkhazian FA, the Nagorno-Karabakh FA, the Northern Cyprus FA, the Crimea FA and the South Ossetia FA.”
Meanwhile the Isle of Man, Jersey and Guernsey have more political independence from the UK than Gibraltar, according to Duerkop, but are not allowed to play international football.
Abkhazia, a subtropical chunk of coastline on the Black Sea that was once a popular Soviet holiday resort, is considered by most of the world to be part ofGeorgia, but has functioned as a de facto independent statelet since a war after the breakup of the Soviet Union.
In 2009 Russia recognised the territory as independent, and it now functions as a Russian protectorate. Other than Russia, only Venezuela, Nicaragua and the Pacific island of Nauru recognise Abkhazia’s independence.
A spokesperson for the Georgian government said no permission had been sought from Georgia to host the tournament, but added that by definition the Conifa tournament was for unrecognised states and thus “does not entail the legitimisation of the regime in control”.
He added that entering Abkhazia from Russia was a violation of Georgian territorial integrity, and as such any players who did so would be banned from Georgia in future, and a criminal case would be initiated against them.
Matches will be played at Sukhumi’s Dinamo stadium, which has a capacity of 4,300, and in the town of Gagra, a resort town where Joseph Stalin had a dacha. Organisers expect some of the matches to sell out, thanks to demand from locals, holidaying Russians and a small handful of fans who plan to make the trip to support their teams.