The London Nest Team had the fantastic opportunity to meet and interview the general secretary of CONIFA, Sascha Düerkop. He gave our Digital Marketing Executive, Caroline Otu, great insight on how CONIFA works, how it came about, and his different forms of inspiration. He even mentions the game he is looking most forward to, and recommends.
So, you’re the General Secretary of CONIFA. I noticed an interesting accent, where do you come from?
I’m from Germany, Cologne.
Could you give me some background knowledge of CONIFA and its emergence?
Sure, first of all, we started in 2013, and gathered all the teams of people who identified with anything that wasn’t a FIFA National Team. They started teams, and we gathered the teams and brought them together in 2013, and turned into an umbrella organisation. So very much like FIFA, the world Cup works with National teams, but they represent something that is out of the ordinary.
What initially gave you the inspiration to come up with CONIFA?
The teams, because they existed, and the places existed. They played friendly matches before and a couple of one off tournaments but they were never well organised, so a couple of the teams approached the president of CONIFA and myself, and asked us if we could put some order into it.
Would you say you got and influence from FIFA in any way shape or form?
Not really, I guess they taught us how not to approach things. So that’s good, we learnt a lot about how not to go about things. For example, because of FIFA scandals, we make sure that there is a sense of transparency, we have our financial records available on the page. It is all out there in the open and very clear. So, we have learned our lessons from their mistakes, which I guess did influence us positively.
49 countries from 5 continents, who else are you thinking of involving as you evolve in the future?
We want Cornwall from the UK, and Jersey and Guernsey. Internationally, we would like to finally set foot in South America. We are currently in touch with the Easter Island and have been for a couple of years, and really want them to get involved. Also a couple of Indio tribes.
Generally, we are not trying to grow any further, because currently, we have around 50 teams. In that world cup, 35 teams wanted to play, and it was very tough to cut it to 16, so there’s not much use in growing any further.
Considering, we’re promoting the Matabeleland and the Padania game, please talk more about it.
Well Matabeleland is originally in Zimbabwe, inhabited by a minority within Zimbabwe. I actually went there, last May. It is an amazing region and the team is brilliant. When I was there they were playing a friendly match, and some of the players lived in remote rural villages, they started at 2am to walk 3 hours to the street then drive 8 hours to the match to be on time. It is a really determined team, and they are really proud to finally have an international platform. It will be the only team from Southern Africa in the world cup because all of the others didn’t qualify in FIFA, so, it is very unique for bigger regions as well.
Tell me how you have expanding since starting in 2013?
In the beginning, when you look at the growth regarding teams, we did shortlists of places which could potentially join and try to encourage them to build a team, or connect to the teams that existed already. Then we put a regional focus on, so last year we focused on Africa because who had only 2 or 3 teams, so it was hard for them to play a neighbour, if there is not neighbour. So, we focused on Africa as a region and we are still working on it, but financially, and from the whole organisation, the growth came very naturally. So, our last world cup was in Abkhazia, attracted around 200 journalists, from 60 countries, so that was a major thing globally. We had press coverage from Aljazeera and we received a report in the Phantom News. So that definitely gave us a lot of momentum and support. We were approached by United Nations and the European Union, and even bigger organisations. So, we’re building our network in that light.
Tell me about the coaching techniques and how the quality has improved over the years.
I can’t completely, because the coaches are very diverse, the quality is very diverse as well. In Abkhazia, for example, half the team is playing in the Russian Premier league, many of them in the Europe league, so they are full professionals. In other teams, like Matabeleland, they have mostly amateurs, so in the case of Matabeleland, we actually send a coach from the UK down there and most of the players failed in the National Academy. In that, they went to the Academy, they had the technical ability but they weren’t well coached as a team and didn’t have a great strategy on the pitch. We try to improve that by bringing in a UK coach who is now building the team with them so we’re trying to improve that, step by step. A couple of the players actually already have offers by professional contracts now, so it’s working.
How does the ranking system work with Punjab at the top. I checked the doc with the formulas, but explain how it works, in layman’s terms.
The general idea is that for every match you play, you gain or lose ranking points. The next general idea is that if you win, you should earn points, if you lose, you lose points. So that’s the basic idea. If you play a better ranked team, you earn more points, if you play a lower ranked team, you earn fewer points. So that’s the general idea. The rest of it is just to get a smooth ranking system so that it’s a fairer system.
Future aspirations for CONIFA?
We want a World Cup outside Europe, so that’s the next big aim. We want to go to probably Asia or Africa, because we are growing in those continents, but in the long run, actually, in the shorter run, we need to finance a few professionals. We have a problem financing ourselves between tournaments, because all the way up to the president, we are all volunteers. Given the responsibility and workload we have, it is tough because it is effectively a full time job, so we need to hire at least a few professionals.
Matches in particular you are looking forward to.
Definitely, Tibet vs Felvidek which is an outsider match, but I just met the Tibet representative in London, and they will do a Tibet Cultural Festival in around it so they will bring musicians to the ground, have nice food, so definitely, that’s one I’m looking forward to. I’ll recommend going there. Other than that, there is another match, Northern Cyprus vs Abkhazia and both are amongst the favourites, most of the Abkhaz population is based in Turkey, so they speak the same language as many of them, there is also a huge Cypriot community in the region, so it should be quite packed. So those are the two matches I would definitely recommend.
Words by Caroline Otu
Digital Marketing Executive
Caroline works in the marketing department of London Nest. Creating the promotional content, advertising videos on the website and writing frequent blog posts on top of monitoring all of the marketing analytics and web responses and updating the website, she is an integral part of the marketing team.