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The main talking points from the launch of the ConIFA World Football Cup

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With the ConIFA World Football Cup 2018 kicking off today, last night tournament organisers ConIFA held a press conference to officially launch the event. Attending were ConIFA President Per-Anders Blind and General Secretary Sascha Duerkop plus Barawa manager Abdikarim Farah and captain Omar Sufi.

The first question asked was about expected ticket sales. In an interview with The National Student, Barawa FA's Haji Munye admitted they tournament was "relying" on ticket sales, and Duerkop told the assembled press that "between 100 and 800 tickets per match" had been sold before adding "we anticipate most sales would be made on the ground and we expect we will have at least four or five sellouts". Ticket sales for games after the group stage where matchups are yet to be confirmed are not doing as well due to the uncertainty of the teams involved however ConIFA is aiming for 500-1000 attendees per game on average.

Two nations, Felvidek and Kiribati had to pull out of the tournament for financial reasons, questions were asked about how this fair as not all the teams who have qualified through gaining points in ConIFA sanctioned matches are able to play whilst tournament sponsors Paddy Power enjoyed profits of £473 million last year. Duerkop explained Paddy Power has helped with running costs of the tournament in terms of transport, accommodation and meals, but that members were responsible for getting to the tournament itself.

After being prompted, he asserted that members had done as much as they could to help one another out: "We do have a lot of  support from the wealthy countries to the less wealthy countries, just today Northern Cyprus donated equipment to Matabeleland, so they are those connections supporting each other."

The conversation then moved on to Barawa's participation in the tournament, the side is made up of Somali diaspora members in the UK, with most of the team based in London. Farah described it as "a privilege to host it in our hometown, the most diverse city as we see it in the world."

Sufi meanwhile spoke of being "honoured to captain my home nation" and of how he tells his nieces and nephews about his experiences. 

Farah added: "We hoped to promote Barawa through this. Our ultimate aim is to raise awareness," he noted there was not much awareness of the region of Somalia containing the port town of Barawa apart from the "wrong reasons" such as deprivation and terrorism. 

Barawa had attempt to bring some players "over from North America" but in the end, financial constraints meant this was not possible. "The majority of players come from London and within the M25, some of them even went to school together, that's how close they are."

As for the expansion of ConIFA itself, Blind and Duerkop said it was a priority to expand to create tournaments for Asian and African members more than expanding the World Football Cup further. No ConIFA members currently come from Latin America, though a delegation did travel to Chile to meet with potential members, however a combination of failures from both sides meant no teams have been able to gain membership and compete within ConIFA. Duerkop summarises: "There's been a lot of talk but no action. It's our fault, but also South America's fault."

As for individual members, Tuvalu, Kiribati and Tibet have all at some point applied for FIFA membership. Duerkop believes it would be a "success" for both the member association and ConIFA to gain FIFA full membership, pointing out FIFA has the manpower and financial musclepower to invest in developing the infrastructure and footballing system that ConIFA, which is run by volunteers does not. 

Logistically, this tournament is a challenge for the teams with the last two group games being played on consecutive days and only one day rest between the first and second set of group games. 

Farah admits that Barawa "are going to find that challenging", however, all the teams are in the same boat and will have to make use of squad rotation to get them through the games. 

Green cards will also be a unique addition to the tournament, green cards, which will be given out for unsporting behaviour and act as a halfway point between a yellow card and a red card and result in a mandatory substitution, though the player will not be suspended for the next game.

Duerkop joked: "Well the testing for that will begin tomorrow." The idea, he explained is that "one player will get punished but a new player come in", with the idea being not the punish the whole team for issues such as dissent or diving. 

Blind believes it acts as "a higher punishment" as yellow cards have not really cut out issues such as diving without having to resort to red cards. 

Farah believes the tournament allowing four substitutions to be made in a game compliments this rule and acts as a good compromise, "I think that's quite fair", he explained, "I think it's a great rule, so hopefully based on the tournament, that's something that can be taken forward." 

Questions were raised about the political problems regarding the tournament throughout the conference but ConIFA denied there had been serious political or diplomatic threats surrounding the tournament. Tibet had been offered a wild card spot as political isolation prevents them from playing matches. 

A letter was written by the National Federation of Cypriots in the UK opposing Northern Cypriot participation. It was pointed out, however, it would be too late now to stop teams from participating as they were already in London. ConIFA, however, is not a political organisation and merely supports the right of members to have the chance to represent their homeland when they do not have the chance to otherwise.




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