FRONTIERS OF FOOTBALL
Words by Adam Beaumont
FIFA has 211 member associations as of time of writing and there are 195 UN recognised independent countries. These associations stretch across the globe, from the oldest of stalwarts like Uruguay and France to the newest or most debated of territories/countries like Kosovo and Gibraltar. To quote: “FIFA’s new vision is to promote the game of football, protect its integrity and bring the game to all.” This is admirable and implies that anyone, worldwide, could play in a FIFA World Cup, should they be talented enough.
Though it is possible to cover the bizarre differences in treatment of various territories such as Guadeloupe, Zanzibar and Sint Maarten, the nebulous FIFA statutes do have a line vaguely prohibiting the admission of non-independent associations. Inhabitants of such territories are then often eligible to play for their parent country. Without any such excuse for independent countries, more members than independent countries and with their mission so clear, one could imagine that independence implies membership, yet it does not. So, who are the 9 independent countries that FIFA is not interested in and what’s football like there?
Let’s get the easy one out of the way first. All 4 constituent countries of the United Kingdom (England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland) are members of FIFA as per FIFA statute 11.5: “Each of the four British associations shall be recognised as a separate member association of FIFA.” So, while a UK team will not play at a World Cup, the individual associations play separately and have all made at least one appearance on the world’s greatest stage.
The world’s smallest independent nation has almost 2.5 active popes per square km. They also have a men’s and women’s football side, a football league and multiple cups. However, very few Vatican passports exist and the inhabitants, being fully ensconced in the Italian city of Rome (and typically living there), are mainly Italian. The league has run regularly since 1973, with the oldest club being the typically unsuccessful FC Guardia (formed from the Swiss Guard). In 2019 there were a few controversial incidents and 2 teams had points deducted, with intense sporting fervour even making its way to the Vatican. The men’s national team plays annually, mostly playing various club sides but they used to semi-regularly play Monaco, and the women’s team was only founded within the last year.
In the tiny state on the Mediterranean coast, Monegasque football just about hangs on. At maximum there’s been 3 cup style competitions running, with two continuing into the present day. The third cup, Challenge Monégasque, has not run since 2016. Various Monegasque clubs participate, with 14 participating in the 2018/19 preliminary stage (6 qualify for the top level Challenge Prince Rainier III and 8 for the lower Trophée Ville de Monaco). Most teams represent public bodies or companies, such as Hôpital de Monaco.
The national team has been inactive since 2014, with rumours that the current Prince prefers the prestige of AS Monaco in the French league system. They typically played the Vatican in friendlies but also nearby Occitania and a few other teams from the area. Their most notable appearance was in the 3-team VIVA World Cup where a 3-2 victory over Occitania led them to a final against Sápmi. However, they then lost 21-1 (after a 14-0 loss to the same team in the group stage). While largely inactive, they are members of ConIFA, with the Monegasque disabled team winning the 4-team 2019 ConIFA No Limits tournament.
The remainder of the list are spread across the South Pacific Ocean with the majority being Micronesian. There is only 1 Micronesian member of FIFA, the US owned island of Guam, who are an AFC, rather than an OFC, member.
9 small sandy atolls make up the Polynesian nation of Tuvalu deep in the South Pacific Ocean. Despite extremely limited space (football often shares the international airport!), a league has eked out an existence consistently since 1980. There was an intermission while the airfield underwent maintenance, with the newly renamed A-Division starting in 2001. Since 2011 there has also been evidence of a women’s league system, though information is scarce and it is unknown as to whether it continues to the present day.
The men’s national side (no women’s team has played an international fixture) has been active since 1979 in the Pacific Games. Most notably, the 2003 Pacific Games doubled up as World Cup qualifying, leaving Tuvalu as the only non-FIFA member to participate in World Cup Qualifying! Their results have typically been highly competitive against the bottom 4 ranked OFC nations and their journey to the 2018 ConIFA World Football Cup showed their determination to play. That any competition could be made against nations with actual funding is impressive, though they remain neglected by the OFC and FIFA.
In terms of other football, they have had a futsal team, which took part in 3 Oceanian Futsal Championships but lost every game, often heavily. They scored 17 goals across 16 games but conceded 146 in reply, even losing to fellow minnows Kiribati in their sole appearance.
Currently the OFC have stated that Tuvalu, being unable to host a qualifying round tournament, is unable to become a member. Considering the lack of space and general infrastructure for such an event, this is likely to always remain impossible, though ground sharing arrangements could be made with nearby Fiji as all transport to Tuvalu comes through there anyway.
The Micronesian nation of Kiribati is spread across a vast area of the Pacific Ocean, covering 3 time zones (including being the only nation in UTC +14) and crossing the Equator. The National
Championship, like many nations where funding is low and teams are spread out, is formatted like a cup, with regionalised qualification for a final group stage. While rarely held, it has existed since 1984.
The national side has attended 3 Pacific Games, though not since 2011, and has scored 7 goals across 11 games, including 3 in their sole draw. This came against Tuvalu and they subsequently lost on penalties. All their other games have been losses (conceding 126!), with 3-2 to Tuvalu and 3-0 to the Cook Islands being the narrowest. They rounded off the 2011 Pacific Games with consecutive 17-1 losses to Papua New Guinea and Tahiti and haven’t been seen since. The lack of grass and abundance of sand and crushed coral, both very abrasive surfaces to play on, has led to defensive deficiencies, though the goal scoring record shows that the technical ability is there.
Kiribati are in the rare position of having had a women’s football team. The side attended the 2003 Pacific Games and lost all 6 games, scoring 2 and conceding 38 (the men’s team in 2003 scored 2 and conceded 40 across 4 games). A 2-1 loss to 3 rd place Tonga was the highlight of the tournament, though only 2 games were total whitewashes. A futsal team has also played, though only in 2011, with them scoring 9 and conceding 54 in just 4 games. However, they did grab an all-important 3-2 win over Tuvalu.
As with Tuvalu, the infrastructure isn’t really there, though their national stadium is good quality and only requires a grass surface to fit requirements. An OFC visit is due sometime this year to further assess them.
The Micronesian archipelago nation of Palau is mainly known for environmental action rather than sports (where baseball and basketball reign supreme) but a football league does run semi-regularly. 2 seasons are typically planned a year, though several have not been run or not been finished. A problem with the league in some years is that few native Palauans take part, notably the most successful league team was Team Bangladesh, made up of Bangladeshi citizens living in Palau. However a 2016 Youth League and an upcoming visit by Uncharted Football (who support football out in non-FIFA areas) are looking to help with that.
The national side struggles with travel expenses but has history in the Micronesian games. The 1998 edition had reduced match lengths and team sizes but Palau came 3 rd out of 6, beating non-native Palauans (Palau B) in the 3 rd place match. Since then they have a 2nd and a 3rd place (out of 4) when football was held, in 2014 and 2018 respectively, with them being competitive against the FSM states, though they have not beaten Pohnpei since 1998.
With sufficient infrastructure in place, the main barrier is local interest and funding. Despite their comparatively developed facilities, the AFC and OFC both delegate responsibility to the other and Palau remain ignored for now.
FEDERATED STATES OF MICRONESIA (FSM)
Of the 4 states of FSM (Pohnpei, Yap, Chuuk and Kosrae), only Kosrae do not play football. However, due to the vast distances between the states, the remaining three states have localised leagues with their representative teams in the Micronesian Games providing the only inter-state competition. 8 teams were set for the 2019 Pohnpei league so the individual states can gain significant interest! Football had mostly died out on the islands before Paul Watson (co-founder of Uncharted Football) and Matt Conrad helped return it (for more info, read “Up Pohnpei!”) but has since thrived, despite the total lack of funding.
Nationally, Pohnpei have dominated the Micronesian Games with gold medals in 2014 and 2018. However, opportunities elsewhere have been limited, with a series of crushing defeats at the 2003 Pacific Games and the u23 side’s performance in the 2015 Pacific Games going down in infamy, despite numerous mitigating factors. Funding prevented any appearance at the 2019 games. Pohnpei’s tour of Guam remains their main performance out of the country, with a 3-2 loss to Rovers, a 7-1 wins against Crushers (both 2nd division Guam sides at the time) and a respectable 3-0 loss in 80 minutes or so against a mostly u19 Guam national side.
NAURU Shrouded by controversy, spiralling obesity rates and crippled by a lack of income, the tiny equatorial, Micronesian island has other concerns than football. However, partly with the assistance of the indomitable Uncharted Football, there exists an informal football structure, with 5-a-side being most prevalent.
An international side has formed, with 2 unofficial games to date, including a 2-1 victory against workers from the Solomon Islands, but their attempted participation in the 2018 Micronesian Games did not occur when the government budget could not stretch to allow Nauruan athletes to compete. They remain yet to make their international debut.
Space is the major issue in the mainly atoll-based Marshall Islands. What little land that could hold a pitch is mostly occupied by houses or is owned by those who wouldn’t want a pitch there. The facilities that will be constructed for the 2022 Micronesian games will not contain a football pitch as the government does not officially recognise any football on the islands. Local small-scale football existed for a time for those in schooling but since appears to have folded. The only football that remains is on the pitch in the US military base on Kwajalein Atoll, which is not open to the public.
There are various other partially recognised states or states that aren’t formally recognised as independent to the satisfaction of FIFA (such as Abkhazia and Niue) but the 9 independent states only require to be members of a confederation. With more stringent criteria and no assistance, the onus is on FIFA to resolve this and they have, so far, done nothing.
While these summaries are brief, hopefully they’ve conveyed the status of the nations well. If you want any further information feel free to ask @ratkiller75 on Twitter and I can explain in more detail or direct you to someone who can.