Two summers ago, in August 2019, I went to watch a football match. The unique element here is the team that I watched: Kernow. This is the Cornish national football team, which has been in operated since 2018 in a quest to promote the Cornish identity and sports in the region. Cornwall itself has an odd constitutional relationship with Britain, but essentially it operates as a county rather than an autonomous region; therefore, it is not a member of FIFA or UEFA. However, it is a member of CONIFA – a federation created for un-recognised nations to come together to play football.
Kernow’s opponents were the Chagos Islands, and although the Cornish were clearly superior in running out 10-3 winners, the day itself impressed me more for the ethos of CONIFA and its main purpose. CONIFA’s mission statement is the following:
With high ethical standards and dedicated members CONIFA is the world leading organization for people, nations and sportingly isolated regions whom share the joy of playing international football. CONIFA contributes to the enhancement of global relations and international understanding.
So, although I congratulated all ten of Kernow’s goals, I also congratulated those of the Chagos Islands. More importantly, I learnt about the problematic recent history of the Chagos Islands: fifty years about the British evicted the local population from the islands in order to give the land to the United States in order to build a military base. The International Court of Justice has called the British control of the island unlawful, thereby ordering it to give the land back to the Chagosisans (something that it has yet to do).
Having read into the history of the Chagos Islands, their football team became all the more heroic: they had come to Cornwall to play a game, but also to promote their heritage and their cause. All of this made me a convert to CONIFA, although Covid put a spanner in the works in terms of watching more games of Kernow since that day. But the next time they are playing I will be sure to go and show my support.