Originially published at kickingtheglobe.substacks.com, This article discusses two organizations, CONIFA and WUFA, that help national teams organize and set up matches. The national teams in both are not FIFA recognized and are often representing stateless people, occupied nations, political rifts, or ethnic minorities (Tibet, Northern Cyprus, Chagos Islands).
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When Darfur United announced they were leaving CONIFA, the move made a mild mark on the social media landscape. Many associations, after all, have moved into and out of CONIFA over the years. Then, breadcrumbs began to appear suggesting a bigger move was in the works. Darfur wasn’t simply leaving CONIFA to downsize operations. Instead, they were preparing to help launch an entirely new organization with a goal not so dissimilar from that of CONIFA itself.
The World Unity Football Alliance (WUFA) appeared on social media in June, though its activity was minimal. It wasn’t until July 7th that an official letter was posted by the organization. That letter listed the WUFA’s first nine official members: Chagos Islands, Matabeleland, Karen, Tamil Eelam, Barawa, International Surrey, Western Sahara, Darfur, and Parishes of Jersey. An additional member, Yorkshire, was announced the next day.
All the members of WUFA were previously CONIFA members with the exception of International Surrey, who have played against CONIFA sides on multiple occasions.
Despite Darfur leaving CONIFA, it appears that several of WUFA’s members will actually be remaining and figure out participating in both organizations. The Barawa Karen, and Parishes of Jersey FA’s all confirmed that they will continue their CONIFA memberships. Confirmation of other FA’s has yet to be made for this article, though none have publicized that they are leaving CONIFA.
From the beginning, the WUFA have made it clear they intend to host matches and tournaments of their own, noting as much in their June 7th announcement letter.
The letter reads, “Immediately, WUFA is moving forward in organizing games, tournaments, cultural events, and supporting opportunities for our collective communities to promote and create social good. There are nine founding members for the Alliance and ongoing conversations with a number of other interested teams. This is just the beginning.”
Within the next day, a tweet was sent by Darfur United, in reply to one from myself, clarifying that while the general product of the WUFA would be similar to CONIFA, the method and structure of the organization was very different.
“Similar but also different,” the tweet read. “WUFA will not be another CONIFA. It’s not a governing body with a hierarchy and bureaucracy. It’s a collaborative alliance. It’s the work and process created by value-aligned teams.”
In Darfur’s departure letter, one can find the first hinting of a significant sort of creative difference between Darfur and CONIFA. It reads, “From inception, Darfur United has been more than football… It would also serve to promote human rights, equity, inclusivity, and amplify the voices of the marginalized around the globe. Darfur United has done that and so much more. At this point, staying with CONIFA would not support those intentions and values.”
So why would Darfur United decide to leave CONIFA? Why would they and several others start a brand-new option for non-FIFA national teams?
The organizations opening letter declares their purpose as, “a collaborative effort between value-aligned teams with a mission to promote hope, opportunity, and universal human rights while celebrating the joy of bringing people together through the most beautiful of games: Football… We work equitably together on projects, campaigns, and events that elevate the Alliance’s mission and values, and those of each of our teams.”
For clear answers, it was best to contact the leadership of Darfur United itself. In a collaborative response, Gabriel Stauring, Amy Gilmore, and Katie-Jay Scott detailed the journey Darfur has been on and touched on their developing roles and philosophies within the WUFA.
It was quite noticeable that at every corner, Darfur United staff seemed to be the face of the WUFA. Gilmore and Scott were the two key contact emails released by the organization, and of course the three were the points of contact for this piece. It was made clear, however, that this is not due to them holding a special position over other members. According to Stauring, it is the result of Darfur United and iACT, which operates Darfur United, being in a position to manage those duties while other members deal with other issues related to maintenance and COVID-19.
“At this moment, Darfur United staff has the capacity to facilitate communications, and that might change in the future,” Stauringexplained. “We see our role as pure facilitators for this early stage of the Alliance. As we move forward, different teams and individuals will take on responsibilities, depending on specific WUFA activities. WUFA is the collective work by the teams, not a structure that exists outside of that work.”
Representing specifically Darfur United, and not the alliance, Stauring noted that the FA’s relationship with CONIFA had reached a point where it was not a reasonable path.
“Speaking specifically for DU and not other WUFA members, as we mentioned in our statement about leaving CONIFA, we felt that our values and principles would be better served by leaving that organization,” Stauring continued. “Our team is more than football. It serves to promote human rights, equity, inclusivity, and amplify the voices of the marginalized around the globe. Without going into detail about our decision, because we appreciate what CONIFA’s platform has done for teams and the ideals it promoted, we were uncomfortable with the direction the organization was taking.”
Stauring emphasized that Darfur had been a long running participant in CONIFA, but that the long term benefit of CONIFA membership seemed to not match their goals and methods.
“We were the first team to join CONIFA, at its very beginning,” Stauring explained. “We participated in the 2014 World Football Cup. Since then, there was not one more CONIFA activity that Darfur United benefited from. We were always in good standing, active communicators, and paying dues. All of our activities and opportunities were created and implemented by collaborative efforts by our team, supporters and volunteers, and other teams. In this way, what WUFA will be doing is not really a departure from what most teams experience and the efforts we engage in — but we will have the added benefit of more sustained collective efforts and support.”
Kyle Johnson, founder of the Karen Football Association, reaffirmed that the key fuel for the ten FA’s which are joining the newly formed WUFA is a shared set of values.
“We are excited about the group of FAs that are involved with WUFA and look forward to participating in tournaments and matches within the Alliance,” Johnson explained. “The mission of WUFA and its members is very inspirational. All of the members have a passion for the game and see it as a platform to use the sport to bring positive change to the world.”
Johnson also confirmed that the Karen FA will maintain their CONIFA membership with the full intention of taking part in future matches and tournaments. The KFA founder noted that all in all, their dual memberships were all part of an exciting second year of full operations.
“Being a part of WUFA and CONIFA is an exciting time,” Johnson continued. “We want to be very competitive on the pitch and plan to take the next steps in establishing our National teams to compete on the world stage.”
For the folks at Darfur United, WUFA is a chance to approach their mission under a new set of rules. The real question on most minds, of course, will be when that new style will result in actual matches. While COVID-19 prevents the WUFA from organizing matches in the short term, plans for tournaments between members are very much alive.
“For tournaments and other activities, it will be through all teams stating where they could participate and at what capacity,” Stauring continued. “For example, Darfur United might be able to host — with support from other teams — in the USA and Sweden. From that, other teams would raise their hands if they would be interested in participating in one of those locations and state what kind of support they could offer. Then, that mini-committee moves forward in making it happen, with support from other members that can support, even if they would not be participating.”
There was, it should be noted, an understanding that this new journey would come with some road bumps. “It is definitely not a perfect system, and there will be issues.”
Above all, the WUFA seems intent on providing the benefits of football for unrepresented peoples, but with a very different set of tools.
“At times, it might be more comfortable to have a big bureaucracy and hierarchy at the center dictating what, when, and how,” Stauring explained. “Nonetheless, WUFA will be all about positive, collaborative energy and spirit from and by the member teams. I say this with fully open eyes, knowing that there’s a possibility that I will have considerably more white hairs a year from now.”
For further information on WUFA, visit their site for contact information and updates.
Note: Following this article, further news on WUFA’s expansion was made on July 13th, when the Consejo Sudamericano de Nuevas Federaciones(CSANF) announced it would be collaborated with the World Unity Football Alliance(WUFA). This means that CSANF’s eleven members (Aymara, Comunidad Armenia, Esperanto, Fernando de Noronha, Indigenas de Panamà, Juan Fernández, Mbya Guaraní, Mapuche, Rapa Nui, Roraima, and Selección Fueguina) have the potential to take part in WUFA tournaments.