Football Tournament for Unrecognized States, Minority Groups Gains Traction
June is a big month for football. The Copa America tournament is underway in the United States, and the European Cup kicks off in a few days in France. But a third international tournament of sorts has already wrapped up in the separatist entity of Abkhazia.
The ConIFA World Cup is a bi-annual soccer tournament of unrecognized statelets and minority groups. In a nerve-wrenching final on June 5, the host nation, Abkhazia, beat Punjab, a United-Kingdom-based team of Punjabi-speaking players, on penalty kicks. For the Abkhaz, it was a case of victory snatched from the jaws of defeat: the team scored in the 88th minute to tie it, 1-1, and sent the game into overtime. The capacity crowd of 4,300 at Sukhumi Stadium went wild after the last penalty kick secured the championship for the Abkhaz squad.
“We believed in our people, in our team!” declared a broadly grinning Raul Khadjimba, Abkhazia’s de-facto leader, as he hung medals around the Abkhaz players’ necks. Authorities declared June 6 a holiday.
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Monica Ellena is a Tbilisi-based freelance journalist.