Guest Blog by Sports for Development & Peace Practitioner; Judith Macharia.
The concept of sport diplomacy promotes the use of sport- through its values of inclusion, cooperation and tolerance- to establish and promote relations between States. Furthermore, sport has been adopted as a soft power tool for territories that struggle to gain recognition through socio-economic standards. However, international organisations including sports bodies continue to isolate unrecognized nations due to concerns that their recognition would trigger a pattern for separatist movements and destabilise peace; this undermines the inclusive nature of sport.
Football is one of the most renowned sports in and within the international system under the central leadership of FIFA. Though it has contributed to the development of the game globally; it restricts membership towards unrecognized States which deters them from engaging in sporting activities affiliated with the international body. Nonetheless, this has not prevented the ‘forgotten nations’ from engaging in international football. Under the globally recognized, New Federation Board- which was later replaced by CONIFA (Confederation of Independent Football Association) in 2013- these nations are able to express their unity, pride and love for the game.
CONIFA is comprised of 58 members that include de facto States, minority groups, stateless nations; and nations that fail to meet the FIFA requirements. After every two years, member States get to participate in international competition through their own version of the World Cup-formerly known as Viva World Cup. The tournament builds their legitimacy, national identity and diplomatic relations while also highlighting some of the contentious issues in these countries. Moreover, these engagements provide hope and significant opportunities to express identities and promote youth development through football.
Limited resources within CONIFA constrain its ability to further advance most of the member countries. Cognisant of this fact, the failure to include these States in international sports organizations limit their opportunities for sustainable development and that of their communities through sport. While more political and governance challenges are likely to arise in the future as it develops, its impact this far is laudable.
This begs the question; is the isolation of autonomous regions justified considering the nature of sport as one of key the drivers of inclusion?
Judith Macharia is is both a Sports Development Officer with the Certified Sports Management Agency (CSMA) in Nairobi, Kenya as well as the Managing Director of RO Sports. Previously, Judith was an Early Career Fellow at the African Leadership Centre and completed an Apprenticeship with the International Peace Institute in New York, USA.
Judith’s professional interests include women in sport, sports for development and in peace building, mental health in sport, and sports governance.