The CONIFA World Football Cup Quarter Finals kick off today, and we’re only four days away from crowning a new champion, but football and controversy appear to go hand-in-hand and this summer’s London-based competition is no different.
On a dramatic final day of the group stages on Sunday, Ellan Vannin required a point against the host side Barawa to top Group A and qualify for the knockout stages. If they lost, Cascadia still needed an eight goal swing in their favour to knock out the Isle of Man-based side, which seemed unlikely given their performances in their first two games.
Unfortunately a 2-0 victory for Barawa and a 6-0 win for Cascadia, including two goals in the final five minutes, made Ellan Vannin’s worse case scenario a reality and they were eliminated from the competition.
However, it has since transpired that a player who was not in Barawa’s matchday squad for their opening game against Tamil Eelam was used and influential in their final two group games. African Champions League participant and Libyan-U20 international Mohamed Bettamer scored one and assisted the other goal in Barawa’s decisive victory over Ellan Vannin, however his inclusion in the game altogether has ruffled feathers within the competition and forced people to question the integrity of the tournament.
A statement was produced on Monday afternoon by CONIFA announcing that Ellan Vannin had launched an initial appeal on the basis that Bettamer was added to the Barawa squad after the final deadline, and was therefore ineligible to play in Barawa’s final two games.
CONIFA then confirmed that they were contacted by Barawa an hour before kick-off of the opening game (it is not made clear if this is an hour before Barawa’s first kick-off or the first match starting, this would also be an important detail as Barawa’s first game started seven hours after the opening round of fixtures) and because many of the teams in the contest had not complied with CONIFA’s squad list deadline (May 28th), they allowed Barawa to replace one of their other players with Bettamer.
The tournament management committee, made up of nine CONIFA representatives and a delegate from each team met twice yesterday to discuss Ellan Vannin’s appeal, and on both occasions voted in favour of Barawa keeping their place in the tournament. This decision was then confirmed via social media and it appeared that the issue was put to bed.
However, a statement from Ellan Vannin was then released early this morning, outlining several key differences in the facts produced by the tournament organisers. Ellan Vannin state that Bettamer was added to the Barawa squad after the tournament had started, in between Barawa’s first and second games, and that many of the Ellan Vannin players did not know who Bettamer was even after the game kicked off.
Ellan Vannin then asked CONIFA for Barawa’s squad list but received no reply, and instead asked that their complaint was investigated by the Management Committee as per the tournament rules. This again appeared to fall on deaf ears, but the Ellan Vannin team instead attended the aforementioned tournament management committee meeting, however there was no Barawa delegate present to represent their side.
Sascha Duerkop, CONIFA’s general secretary told the committee that Barawa had requested permission to add a player to their squad after the tournament had started, and this was agreed to by the Organising Committee, however this change of rules wasn’t passed onto the rest of the teams competing. Ellan Vannin also allege that the decision was taken solely by the General Secretary and not the organising committee however this has not been confirmed.
The Manx IFA state that they too have struggled with injuries throughout the tournament as if they were aware that sides could replace players during the tournament itself, would have flown in replacements. A vote took place and ruled in favour of the Barawa side, despite the team providing no evidence of their own, however Ellan Vannin state that they would have also been given the chance to appeal the decision, despite the fact there is nothing within the tournament rules to suggest that this is permitted.
Ellan Vannin were then contacted by the President of CONIFA explaining that voting irregularities in the second meeting where their appeal of the original decision was discussed meant that the vote had been annulled and a management committee meeting would then take place, however Ellan Vannin weren’t told why this was the case and were not allowed to provide any evidence at the latest meeting.
The official CONIFA FAQ states that:
“We do have many values and aims off the football pitch.”
However, none of these values are properly explained. In their opening media day press conference, they said “We have nothing against FIFA, we are very grateful to learn how not to do things.”
We’re not in a position ourselves to speculate about what has and hasn’t been done by the management committee or the General Secretary, however, it does appear that a huge lack of communication between CONIFA and it’s members is one of the main causes of the issues that have arisen. In the Media Update given to accredited press every morning, there is no mention of the appeal or the final decision, despite the fact that this is the most important development to take place during the tournament itself. The paramount need for transparency at CONIFA appears to only go so far.
Many of the sides competing have struggled to fill their allocation of 23 players for numerous reasons, including injuries, and so for one side to be given the opportunity to add to their roster without the other fifteen teams informed and given the same chance to do so doesn’t sit well with many. Ellan Vannin called for the other teams, officials and Paddy Power to boycott the rest of the tournament, and although that would certainly bring the seriousness of this issue to CONIFA’s attention, I fear it would cause more harm than good in the long run to CONIFA’s existence.
CONIFA is still a young organisation and at the heart of it’s mission statement claims that “Our main goal is to give football outsiders overseen by FIFA or left behind by their mothers country FA the chance to win their place on a global stage and advance footballwise and personally.” however, it appears as if it still has some way to go before it can claim to be the football organisation that so many desire at the top of the game.