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One Year On: An interview with CONIFA General Secretary Sascha Düerkop

Oliver McManus interviews the co-founder and General Secretary of CONIFA, Sascha Düerkop again, one year after the CONIFA World Cup.

Some of you may remember that, this time last year, I interviewed the General Secretary of CONIFA – Sascha Duerkop – ahead of the 2016 CONIFA World Cup in Abkhazia. Well, fresh from his trip to Africa, I caught up with him again to discuss the wider world that is CONIFA as well as the upcoming European Football Cup in Northern Cyprus.

Founded in 2013, the Confederation of Independent Football Associations was the brain-child of both Per-Anders Blind (the current “world president”) and Sascha Duerkop (the General Secretary) and was created with the intention of overseeing international competition between the many non-FIFA affiliated associations the world over.

So, sit back as you learn a thing or two about the lesser known footballing sphere.

Since I spoke to you last June, you’ve added 10 new territories under the CONIFA banner , now encompassing over 350 million people – is it fair to say that the last 12 months have been pretty successful for you?

Indeed, it was. Even more, we probably had the most successful 12 months in the history of CONIFA – but we are working hard to make the next 12 months even better! There are currently at least another 10 teams in the world that have contacted us for a future membership and the growth seems to increase steadily, which is absolutely fantastic.

We still consider ourselves to be in a “start-up mode” and we all know that there is only more hard work to come to build a sustainable and bright future for us – and much more important: For all of our members!

The one continent you’re missing members from is South America – are you actively looking for potential members there or are you just letting nature take its course?

Unfortunately, we could not really kick off in South America, yet, true. We are constantly, actively working on setting afoot on this football-loving continent, but it is not as easy as elsewhere for us, as it seems. We did include 2 Spanish-speakers in our team, including one based in Mexico, and we even could create a small committee working day-in day-out on making first steps in South America.
We invested in the continent, by sending our former South America (now Asia) Director Jens Jockel to a local national team tournament outside FIFA – organised by an organisation called CSANF. Unfortunately, all the effort has not paid out yet. However, we remain confident that we will very soon start with a blast in South America, as we currently have at least 5 teams from South and Central America in active discussions with us.

We’re about to kick-start the ConIFA European Football Cup in Northern Cyprus – what’s the reception been like here?

The reception has been overwhelmingly great! We are very confident that the tournament will just be another success story and a huge step forward from the rather grassroots first European Football Cup in Debrecen 2015. We chose Northern Cyprus as a host, as the infrastructure and stadiums are all on a very high level and the locals fully support the tournament.

The media reception has also been very positive so far and we will probably attract nearly as many journalists as we did in Abkhazia – which is great for us and the teams as it spreads the word about the peaceful festival we celebrate, the heritage of our teams and the aims and goals of CONIFA in the longer run.

Last year we also spoke about the financial struggles CONIFA faced, without prying, has the success of Abkhazia 2016 helped boost CONIFA’s stability?

The answer has to be “yes and no”. The 2016 World Football Cup was a financial success for us, as all our costs could be covered. However, no reserves could be built either and no long-term sponsor has been secured, yet. That said, we still have to work on a “tournament by tournament” basis currently, but find it a bit easier to do so by now.

We will probably be in a position to announce the hosts of the World Football Cups 2018 and 2020 and European and possible African and Asian Cups in 2019 over the next few months, which is fantastic. Such long term planning also allows us to re-asses and re-position ourselves in a way that solves our financial issues once and for all.

As an organisation, is the ultimate aim for your members to be able to join FIFA as an association or do you hope that they’ll stick around?

As an organisation, our ultimate aim is to develop our members in the best possible way! In some cases, this best possible way is a FIFA membership, which opens the doors to the biggest football tournaments in the world and huge development funds, which we cannot provide (yet).

For others, FIFA membership never was or will be an option. In those cases, we will keep on going out of our way to assist those teams in all other possible forms. We currently are starting several “development programs” to help our members to sustainably grow into Football Associations that reach the same level as some of the FIFA members within the next 10 to 20 years.

Summed up, we will assist teams to get into FIFA, if they request our help. And we will keep assisting the other teams to reach the same level of professionalism in the long-run.

I read that CONIFA is an entirely voluntarily ran organisation – is this true?

It is and to be fair, this is the biggest financial challenge we have as an organisation. Currently, our funds can only cover about half of our travel costs (if at all) and no reimbursements or payments. This was completely fine in the beginning and we are all happy to invest time and money in the visionary project we started 4 years ago, but with the amount of teams we now have, it limits ourselves a little bit, obviously.

We believe that our teams deserve our full attention and dedication 24/7 to grow and be perfectly represented by us. Unfortunately, looking at my own 2 part-time jobs in university, I cannot invest as much time and effort as I would love to at times.

But, again, we remain positive to change this over next 2 years and get at least 5 people on a regular payroll to focus completely on CONIFA.

On the pitch, how’s the quality improved over the last couple of years and what are the coaching set-ups like?

The quality has improved a lot from 2014 to now. Some of our members have been used to a lower level of football from other tournaments outside FIFA and were shocked during the first World Football Cup in 2014. The host Sapmi, traditionally a powerhouse outside FIFA, finished only 10th out of 12th in that tournament, as an example. This improved quality on the pitch inspired many of our teams to work harder and more steadily – not only during and shortly before the tournaments.

The coaching set-ups are going down the same avenue: more and more of our members engage professional coaches or whole teams of coaches, especially during tournaments, to get the best out of the team.

The next World Cup you’ll be hosting is next year, 2018, what’s the process for choosing a host territory?

We do know the host already and will publish it very soon, after coordinating a release strategy with our main sponsor – stay tuned!

I want to ask about your ranking system – Occitania are currently top – how do you calculate each team’s points (or is it a secret)?!

No, it is absolutely no secret at all! The rankings are calculated very similar to the FIFA women football rankings (which is very different to the male ranking system!). The calculus can be found here.

Occitania is mainly leading the rankings as the calculus considers the results after 90 minutes only. The last match Occitania lost after 90 minutes was the Europeada Final 2012 vs South Tyrol. In other words, since 2011 their record is 19 wins, 6 draws, 2 losses (after 90 minutes), which explains their leading role in the rankings.

Finally, on a personal note, I’ve noticed your website about your extensive football kit collection; how do you go about collecting them all and is there any particular jersey you’re looking out for?

Great to hear you found and enjoyed the collection! This is my “other hobby”, indeed.
The collection is doing well and still steadily growing, even though not as quickly as it did initially, due to a lack of funds, time and countries left to tick off!

However, I am still purchasing quite a few shirts on a regular basis and still have about 20 additions to add to the blog, including a Syria shirt, which just arrived from Lattakia (Syria)!

And, yes, I am looking for a specific shirt: A Djibouti national team, especially a matchworn one, is the holy grail of shirt collecting! I spoke to at least 20 players and all of the FA management, but was never able to source one. So, should you know a Djiboutian by chance…

There we are then, that was the amiable Sascha Duerkop allowing Outside of the Boot an insight into the workings of ConIFA for the second year running – we’ll be sure to catch up with him next year ahead of the 2018 ConIFA World Cup but, for now, I hope you’ve learned a thing or two about football outside of FIFA.

And should any of you know anyone from Djibouti or, indeed, hail from the country yourself – well, don’t hesitate to get in touch!

Oliver McManus

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