When you think of Hawaii, the first thing to come into your head is probably something like ugly floral shirts your dad would wear, tropical beaches and maybe a hula skirt here and there. Whatever you think of, it probably isn’t football.
In late November, however, that’s exactly why they were in the news. Hawaii had joined CONIFA.
CONIFA stands for the Confederation of Independent Football Associations, and acts as an alternative version of FIFA, with their own world cup and everything. Now don’t go expecting to see massive sides such as France or Brazil in CONIFA. South Ossetia and the Chagos Islands are more the type of team you’ll find there. Furthermore, only 3 of the members of CONIFA are UN Member States in their own right, Monaco, Kiribati and Tuvalu. The majority of the rest of the members are partially recognised, or unrecognised states. These are self proclaimed countries, which may have autonomy, but aren’t recognised by enough (or any) UN members in order to be declared a country. Even God’s own county of Yorkshire have got involved, playing home games at Ossett United’s Ingfield Stadium
One example of this is Artsakh, who hosted 2019’s CONIFA Euros. If you ask the Artsakhtsi people, they are a proud nation of Armenians, but ask any government around the world, and they’ll tell you that it is merely the Azeri region of Nagorno-Karabakh (This is where Qarabag FK take their name from) With no international recognition by any major countries, joining FIFA is a pipe dream for nations such as Artsakh, so they turn to CONIFA instead.
So where do Hawaii fit into all of this?
They’ve got a little independence movement of their own. Since American annexation of Hawaii in 1893, there has always been a mood for a return to independence for the archipelago, especially in recent times, with the protests over the Thirty Meter Telescope on the sacred Hawaiian site of Mauna Kea acting as a catalyst for a new drive for independence.
Why join CONIFA, though? A statement. Prior to joining CONIFA, if Hawaiians wanted to play international football, they had to declare for the USA or delve into their ancestry. One international to come out of the Aloha State is Hamburg’s Bobby Wood, who has made 45 appearances for the USMNT.
CONIFA provides young Hawaiian players an alternative, however. They can choose to represent their homeland, rather than the USA it they feel that Uncle Sam isn’t for them. Imagine a Hawaiian alternative to James McClean.
As I mentioned before, CONIFA have their own World Cup, which takes place every two years. The 2018 winners were Kárpátalja, who represent the Hungarian minority in Carpathian Ruthenia, a region that is mostly in modern day Ukraine. Northern Cyprus came second best, with Padania (Northern Italy) coming third.
The standard of football isn’t the best (It isn’t exactly like Yorkshire are pulling Harry Maguire away from Manchester United to play against the Chagos Islands - None of the Yorkshire team play any higher than the National League North) But the standard of football doesn’t matter, as corny as it sounds, it is the friends that we made along the way. If a football tournament played by semi-pros hosted by a region of Somalia* can bring people together to establish a common goal, then it truly serves a great purpose.
*Though Barawa, a region of Somalia, were selected as hosts, they hosted the tournament in London