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Sportsbet.io sponsors the 2019 CONIFA European Football Cup
Introducing the CONIFA 2019 European Football Cup
It was recently announced that Sportsbet.io would be the principal sponsor of the CONIFA 2019 European Football Cup.
The competition, which will be hosted in Artsakh in June, is the latest major international tournament to be organised by CONIFA (the Confederation of Independent Football Associations), an independently-run organisation that represents a collection of de-facto nations, minority peoples, displaced diasporas and sports-isolated territories around the world.As a huge fan of the underdog, Sportsbet.io couldn’t resist the opportunity to get involved in its first major sports sponsorship deal and supporting CONIFA was the perfect match.
CONIFA and Sportsbet.io are a match made in heaven
CONIFA and Sportsbet.io is a perfect partnership.
While neither of us have been around a great deal of time (CONIFA was founded in 2013, Sportsbet.io in 2016) we’ve both made a major impact in our respective fields in a very short space of time.
At heart, both CONIFA and Sportsbet.io are disruptors.
CONIFA believes that international football should not be the preserve of FIFA-recognised nations, while Sportsbet.io was founded on the idea that fun, fast and fair entertainment should be accessible to all.
The CONIFA story has been a remarkable one, and in just a few years thousands of people have taken part in tournaments hosted across the world and covered by the global media.
Over a similar period, Sportsbet.io has grown into a major player in the sports betting world, offering an innovative product to customers worldwide.
“We have been fans of CONIFA and the fantastic work they have been doing for some time now,” says Joe McCallum, Director of Sportsbook at Sportsbet.io. “So when the opportunity arose to become the official sponsor of the CONIFA European Football Cup, we simply couldn’t say no.
“Sportsbet.io’s values match very closely with those of CONIFA. We are both disrupt innovators who want to create something fun, fast and fair. This is what makes us perfect partners.”
Sportsbet.io did not want to be a hands-off partner. We understand that CONIFA’s success has been the result of the passion, dedication and hard work of its countless volunteers around the world.
So as part of our partnership, as well as a financial contribution, Sportsbet.io is focused on helping CONIFA and its members develop. This will mean working closely to support volunteers across all areas.
“All of us at CONIFA are delighted to be working with SportsBet.io on the 2019 European Football Cup,” says Sascha Düerkop, CONIFA General Secretary. “Their sponsorship allows CONIFA to ensure the tournament can be enjoyed by more people than ever before.”
The proud history of CONIFA
CONIFA was founded in June 2013 as a football federation for all associations outside of FIFA. It has since acted as a global non-profit organisation that supports representatives of international football teams from nations, de-facto nations, regions, minority peoples and sports isolated territories.
It currently boasts 54 members from five continents, and has hosted five major tournaments around the world.
The first of these was the inaugural CONIFA World Football Cup, which was hosted in the Sápmi region of Sweden in 2014, with the County of Nice emerging victorious at the Jämtkraft Arena in Östersund.
Since then there have been major tournaments every year, including European Football Cups in 2015 and 2017 and World Football Cups in 2016 and 2018.
The most recent of those, held in London, was the biggest event yet in CONIFA history, with global media attention and more than 2,500 fans watching the final. A remarkable quarter of a million people worldwide tuned into live streams of the action.
Aside from its headline events, CONIFA also runs a series of other tournaments and initiatives. Its recent No Limits tournament, hosted in Monaco, was its first ever tournament for disabled footballers.Off the pitch, CONIFA looks to support people worldwide via the beautiful game. Its recent partnership with Boots2Africa will help provide football boots to CONIFA member teams in need.
“Many of CONIFA’s members struggle to get even the most basic of equipment; by nature CONIFA works with many groups who are stateless, voiceless and persecuted, and who can’t get access to finance or equipment,” says CONIFA member development manager Paul Watson.
“Thanks to the kind assistance of Boots2Africa, we will be able to provide much-needed kit to players all over the world who otherwise would have nothing.”
Meet the president
CONIFA is led by its president, Per-Anders Blind. A former football referee, Blind helped build CONIFA following the collapse of the N.F.-Board, the organisation previously overseeing non-FIFA international football.
Sportsbet.io caught up with Per-Anders to discuss CONIFA’s values, partnerships and the future.
Could you introduce CONIFA and what it stands for?
There are so many ethnicities all around the globe (more than 5,500) that people have never heard of or know about. Fantastic people, with beautiful cultures and traditions. A lack of knowledge can become a seed for racism or xenophobia.
But through CONIFA - the Confederation of Independent Football Associations - acting as a 'peace mission', we are able and honoured to show the beauty of people all around the world, to help educate our followers, and show them that we are one human race on this planet, and can co-exist in friendship and love. We want CONIFA to contribute to a better, more loving, respectful and understanding world.
Why is Sportsbet.io a great partner for CONIFA?
We felt that Sportsbet.io - like CONIFA - is a company that is growing fast. We've both come from small beginnings and share the challenges and opportunities that coming into an established sector brings. We both deliver new, fresh values for our followers and stakeholders.
We've now joined forces and are entering a new era with enormous possibilities for expansion on both sides. We're really happy to be partners with Sportsbet.io and are looking forward to a bright future together.
What will the support of Sportsbet.io allow CONIFA to do?
In the first instance, Sportsbet.io's support will allow CONIFA to stage a hugely successful European tournament. This sponsorship will allow us to ensure teams have excellent support facilities, and fans can enjoy an even more enjoyable experience at the European Football Cup.
As everything CONIFA does currently relies on volunteers - no person who works for CONIFA receives a salary - we also hope that Sportsbet.io's support will mean that we may be able to employ a dedicated member of staff in 2020. This would allow us to move the organisation forward in ways previously impossible. We are all very grateful for Sportsbet.io's support in this regard.
How has CONIFA built upon the success of the 2018 World Football Cup in London?
The interest in the World Football Cup in London in 2018 was unprecedented. It has meant more people are aware of CONIFA than ever before. This has allowed us to broaden our membership, and we now represent over 370 million people around the globe. The success has meant that many different groups are interested in joining CONIFA and we look to work with them to ensure everyone can play football - no matter what.
What are the aims for CONIFA this year and beyond?
CONIFA has grown quickly over the last few years and now we are looking to consolidate this growth. After what we hope will be a very successful European Football Cup in June 2019, we want to try to bring regional tournaments to Asia and Africa in the next years. We have also committed to holding a women's World Football Cup in 2021 - which will be a challenge, but one we are very much looking forward to, and one that is imperative for CONIFA's lasting success.
The 2019 Euro Cup
The CONIFA 2019 European Football Cup is the third edition of the popular tournament, to be hosted in beautiful Artsakh in the south Caucasus.
Games will be held in three cities, Stepanakert (the capital), Askeran and Martakert, and 12 teams will compete, among them defending champions Padania.
Artsakh gained de facto independence following the end of the Nagorno-Karabakh War in 1994, a conflict which also involved Armenia and Azerbaijan. It remains unrecognised by the international community.
“Artsakh has been a member of CONIFA since our inception in 2013, and participated in our first-ever tournament in Sweden in 2014,” says CONIFA’s European Director Alberto Rischio. “Given their long-term involvement in the CONIFA family, we were delighted when the Artsakh Football Federation first expressed interest in hosting the tournament.”
Information on attending the tournament will be released shortly.
The draw for the CONIFA European Football Cup 2019 was made at the end of January at CONIFA AGM in Krakow, Poland, where it was also live-streamed to viewers across the world.
Sportsbet.io’s PR & Sponsorship Manager, Lucy Thomas, was on hand to help out, drawing the top seeds and helping to create one of the most intriguing draws in CONIFA history.
“It was great to be involved with the draw,” says Lucy. “I just hope everyone is happy with the teams they will be facing!”
The 12 teams have been divided into four groups of three teams, with the top two from each group progressing to the quarter-finals, from where the tournament will become a straight knock-out.
The opening fixture will pit hosts Artsakh against Sampi in a mouth-watering clash that already has history; the two teams met at the CONIFA World Football Cup 2014, where Artsakh were comfortable in a 5-1 victory. While Sampi will be looking for revenge, they will undoubtedly find it tough against a strong Artsakh team with a home crowd behind them.
Looking at the draw, Group 2 is already being dubbed the ‘Group of Death’, featuring as it does two former CONIFA World Football Cup Champions in the form of Abkhazia (winners in front of a home crowd in 2016) and the County of Nice, which one the inaugural tournament in 2014. The teams are drawn alongside Chameria, which is making its debut at the competition.
Group 3 is also highly-anticipated, bringing together two Italian powers, with double European champions Padania and Sardinia drawn alongside Donetsk.
Meet the teams
The 12 teams competing in Artsakh bring with them unique histories, struggles and stories. Sportsbet.io took a closer look.
Abkhazia is a partially recognised republic located between Russia and Georgia. When the former Soviet Union collapsed, it declared independence in 1992, but today is only recognised by a handful of countries, including Russia and Venezuela.
It has been a long-time CONIFA member, hosting and winning the CONIFA World Football Cup in 2016. That triumph left a lasting legacy. The following day saw thousands take to the streets to celebrate as President Raul Khajimba declared a national holiday.
“The victory of our national team is a victory of all our people,” the president said at the time. “We have waited for this victory and we have achieved it. I am certain that the brilliant triumph of our national football team will forever remain a golden page in the history of Abkhazia.”
The people of Abkhazia will be hoping to repeat their success this time out.
The hosts of the CONIFA European Football Cup 2019 is the Republic of Artsakh, which originally went by the name Nagorno Karabakh, or ‘Black Mountains’ in Russian.
As with Abkhazia, Artsakh declared independence following the collapse of the former Soviet Union, but remains largely unrecognized until today.
The team participated in the first CONIFA World Football Cup in 2014, but was disappointed to exit at the group stage. Now hosting the tournament, they will be looking to go one better.
“We are sure that visitors will be pleased to visit the Artsakh Republic,” a member of Artsakh’s CONIFA delegation recently said. “It is a beautiful place, and we looking forward to receiving and welcoming all the teams, officials and fans.”
Chameria is welcomed by the CONIFA family to its first tournament. The team represents the Albanian community of northern Greece - a large but rarely spoken about group.
The team enters the tournament in good form; it recently won two matches against Albanian top-flight clubs Sporting Tirana and Oricum, and will be hoping to build on these results with an impressive tournament debut.
It also has some pedigree; the team won the 2017 UMPO Cup for unrecognised nations in The Hague, the Netherlands.
County of Nice
The County of Nice was a response from a region of France to a lack of investment in local football. While France as a whole as excelled in the sport - most notably winning the FIFA World Cup last year - the County of Nice has been somewhat left behind.
As a result, the management of OGC Nice founded the Country of Nice Football Association to provide an alternative to locals, and it has proved massively popular.
The team played and won the inaugural CONIFA World Football Cup in 2014, and also finished as runners up in the CONIFA European Football Cup in 2015, making it one of the most successful teams in CONIFA history.
“We were the first world champions and we are excited for the next competition,” says Hadji from the County of Nice. “Artsakh is a nice country with a good structure, good stadiums. So we will do our most to honour the competition and CONIFA.”
Donetsk represents the people living in the self-proclaimed republic that broke away from Ukraine in 2014. In response, the Ukraine FA annulled all player, referee and coach passports and certificates, leaving the region’s football community with no representation in Ukraine and unable to compete elsewhere.
However, a grassroots movement has quickly looked to correct that. There is a local league up and running, although with the conflict ongoing it can be hard to compete.
The Donetsk team is somewhat of an unknown quantity, having so far only friendlies against neighbouring Luhansk and Abkhazia.
But aside from the action on the field, their appearance at the CONIFA European Football Cup will give the region a chance to look beyond the fighting.
In a similar position as Donetsk, the Luhansk People’s Republic declared itself independent from Ukraine in 2014, although conflict continues to plague the region.
Luhansk has so far has only played friendly matches - including an impressive 3-1 victory over Donetsk back in 2015. But it joined CONIFA 2016 and is already being touted as a dark horse for this year’s Euro Cup.
Padania is a long-time CONIFA powerhouse, having won the CONIFA European Football Cup in 2015 and 2017, as well as progressing to at least the quarter-finals in all three CONIFA World Football Cups. The team will be confident of repeating its success this time out.
Padania represents a region of northern Italy which considers itself very distinct from the rest of the country. The team has fought hard to stay out of political debate in Italy, and instead looks to provide a mix of professional and amateur footballers with a chance to represent itself internationally.
“This is a great opportunity to play on a different stage,” says Padania goalkeeper Riccardo Zarri. “For me, this experience is one of the best thing I could have done soccer-wise, but also as a person.”
The Sápmi people are a tribe living in Lapland and spanning over the large Arctic territories of northern Norway and Sweden all the way to Finland and parts of Russia.
An ethnic minority that traditionally herds reindeer and elk, the Sápmi have a football team older than CONIFA itself that is managed by Sápmi from Sweden, Norway and Finland, with a growing connection to those in the Russian community.
Sápmi has a strong CONIFA heritage, having competed at both the 2014 and 2016 World Football Cups with a mix of professionals and amateurs, including some who have represented the full Norwegian and Finnish teams.
Sápmi will kick-off this year’s European Football Cup in a hotly-anticipated match-up against hosts Artsakh. “I am very satisfied to be in the opening match against Artsakh,” says president of the FA Sápmi Håkan Kuorak. “That was my goal, to play the opening match of the tournament.”
Sardinia is a new member of CONIFA and has accordingly not yet played at a major tournament. The Mediterranean island has a distinct culture from mainland Italy, and was of course independent from Italy historically.
As a new CONIFA member, only joining in October 2018, the team will want to make an instant impact.
“It’s a big honour and a great responsibility for us to represent Sardinia at an international level,” Gabriele Cossu, president of Sardinia’s FA the Federatzione Isport Natzionale Sardu, says. “We believe that sport and the national football team will help to make Sardinia and its culture better known to the rest of the world.”
Our main goal will be to involve as many Sardinians as possible, so that we are ready for the European Football Cup in June 2019,” adds Cossu.
South Ossetia broke away from Georgia in the 1990s and, similar to Abkhazia, is only recognised internationally by a handful of countries.
The Ossetians speak a Persian language and live in a remote, high-altitude region of the Caucasus surrounded by beautiful nature, mountain lakes and countless natural water springs.
The team has a strong CONIFA heritage, reaching the semi-finals of the first ever CONIFA World Football Cup in 2014, as well as competing at the CONIFA European Football Cup in Northern Cyprus in 2017.
Székely Land represents a sub-group of Hungarians, the Szeklers, living in the central Romanian region of Transylvania.
The team has competed in all but the first CONIFA tournaments, and has steadily improved over time, finishing fourth at last year’s CONIFA World Football Cup in London.
CONIFA vice president established the Székely Land Football Association back in 2013, and the team continues to go from strength to strength.
Western Armenia represents the ancient Armenian homeland west of the modern country of Armenia, which is located in eastern Turkey.
It is home to Mount Ararat, consider the most sacred place on earth by Armenia and reported to have been where Noah began building his ark.
The team has performed well at previous CONIFA tournaments, including reaching the semi-finals of the CONIFA World Football Cup in 2016.
Picking a winner
So, the big question. Who is going to lift the trophy in Artsakh and be crowned CONIFA European Football Cup champions for 2019?
Sportsbet.io makes the Padania, Székely Land, the County of Nice and Sardinia as its four, pre-tournament favourites.
Dark horses include Abkhazia, Donetsk, hosts Artsakh and Western Armenia.
And the tournament underdogs - still capable of pulling off a surprise - are Luhansk, Sampi, Chameria and South Ossetia.
But CONIFA tournaments tend to be more unpredictable affairs than FIFA ones. We are regularly seen teams sensationally overcome the odds to triumph in CONIFA; both the County of Nice (2014) and Kárpátalja (2018) lifted CONIFA trophies as initially unqualified replacement teams.
There is no reason another team can’t beat the odds this year.