CONIFA World Football Cup kicks off in London

First eight group games of international tournament produce 33 goals; tournament organiser Paul Watson relieved after build-up period of "visa problems, money problems... and threats"

Action during the CONIFA World Football Cup 2018 match between Barawa v Tamil Eelam at Bromley on May 31, 2018 in London, England. (Photo by Con Chronis/CONIFA)
Image: Barawa celebrate scoring against Tamil Eelam in the CONIFA World Football Cup (All photos courtesy of Con Chronis/CONIFA)

Colour, enthusiasm and goals galore were the order of the day as the CONIFA World Football Cup kicked off in London.

The tournament for independent football associations from across the globe - the third such edition since CONIFA was formed in 2013 - features 16 teams from five continents, all brought together by a stated belief that the sport can "give a voice to those often unheard in the world community".

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 31: A Tibet fan watches a singer at the Opening Ceremony of the CONIFA World Football Cup 2018, Barawa v Tamil Eelam at Bromley on May 31, 2018 in London, England. (Photo by Con Chronis/CONIFA)
Image: A young Tibet fan watches the opening ceremony

An opening ceremony was held on the first night of Matchday One on Thursday, with tournament 'hosts' Barawa - a London-based team representing the peoples of southern Somalia - inflicting a 4-0 drubbing on Tamil Eelam, who are also based in the UK capital and are made up of members from the wider, displaced Sri Lankan Tamil community. The game at Bromley FC was refereed by former Premier League ref Mark Clattenburg.

The captains shake hands before the CONIFA World Football Cup 2018 match between Barawa v Tamil Eelam at Bromley on May 31, 2018 in London, England. (Photo by Con Chronis/CONIFA)
Image: The captains of Barawa and Tamil Eelam shake hands before kick-off at Bromley, watched by referee Mark Clattenburg

Ellan Vannin, from the Isle of Man, also opened their Group A challenge with an emphatic victory, seeing off Cascadia 4-1 at Sutton. The beaten North Americans boasted former Major League Soccer star James Riley in their ranks.

Meanwhile, in Enfield, reigning world champions from 2016 Abkhazia beat Tibet 3-0 in Group B. Northern Cyprus and Karpatalya drew 1-1 in the same pool.

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Clattenburg, refereeing at the CONIFA World Football Cup, spoke to Sky Sports News about England's request for an Asian ref to take charge of their forthcoming friendly against Costa Rica

There was a tough start for the southern African team of Matabeleland, coached by Englishman Justin Walley with the assistance of former Liverpool and Zimbabwe goalkeeper Bruce Grobbelaar, as they went down 6-1 to the northern Italian region of Padania, in another game played at Sutton. Szekely Land defeated Tuvalu in the other Group C match, at Haringey.

The day's biggest winners were Panjab who thrashed Kabylia 8-0 at Slough, while the Group D encounter between United Koreans in Japan and Western Armenia ended goalless.

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Action during the CONIFA World Football Cup 2018 match between Barawa v Tamil Eelam at Bromley on May 31, 2018 in London, England. (Photo by Con Chronis/CONIFA)
Image: Barawa, the tournament 'hosts', recorded an emphatic 4-0 win in their Group A opener

Tournament organiser Paul Watson from CONIFA says it is a relief to have got the World Football Cup underway, having spent weeks and months handling a series of logistical issues.

"There were visa problems and there were money problems," Watson told Sky Sports. "Both are things you can't avoid with a non-FIFA competition.

"On the money side, people are scared to sponsor an event like this because they're afraid of offending China. The presence of Tibet caused four major sponsors to pull out. So the finances for a competition like this are really difficult.

It's like trying to organise a dinner party in a blizzard - you think you see the problems coming, but then they come from all sides at once.
Paul Watson, tournament organiser

"As for the visas, they went to the 11th hour for some of the teams. The Matabeleland guys were waiting until they were supposed to be getting on the plane. I had to tell their coach initially that all of the players' visa applications had to be rejected, which was so difficult to do.

"But then suddenly, later on, hope emerged - and we've been able to get them here after all."

With some of the participants representing disputed states and territories, Watson acknowledges there have been political complications too.

Action during the CONIFA World Football Cup 2018 match between Barawa v Tamil Eelam at Bromley on May 31, 2018 in London, England. (Photo by Con Chronis/CONIFA)
Image: Solomon Sambou scored twice for Barawa, with further goals from Shaun Lucien and Gianni Crichlow

"We constantly have threats," he explained. "The Cypriot High Commission attempted to get us to stop playing the competition. They then contacted all the stadiums we're using, even the ones Northern Cyprus aren't playing at, to tell them to withdraw.

"It fell on deaf ears, but we have to take such protests seriously. You have to have back-ups for everything, such as the possibility of losing stadiums and teams. It's like trying to organise a dinner party in a blizzard - you think you see the problems coming, but then they come from all sides at once."

The CONIFA World Football Cup action continues with the next round of group games on Saturday, with matches being played at Carshalton, Enfield, Haringey, Bracknell and Slough. Tickets cost £11 for adults, and £5.50 for Under-18s.

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