God’s Own Country v Tibet: Yorkshire Taking Advantage of CONIFA’s Great Work

Flint's Off on One

Yorkshiremen have long been known to be an arrogant bunch. England’s world-class opening batsman Geoffrey Boycott, for example, has built an entire post-playing career largely on his blustering persona. A large part of the reason he has thrived is down to how his authoritative manner resonates with his county. Then there’s the nauseating title Yorkshire has bestowed upon itself – ‘God’s Own Country’; it almost ranks alongside Hull City Tigers.

Now don’t get me wrong, there is most definitely room for arrogance in sport. Éric Cantona’s genius was 80% bluster and rhetoric, while Sir Alex Ferguson defeated most opponents before a ball was kicked. What would a pantomime villain be without a powerful sense of superiority?

Recently, however, Yorkshire has gone way beyond the boundaries. Later this year there will of course be the FIFA World Cup in Russia, complete with the richest, most glamorous and popular stars. There will also be a less-heralded global tournament that holds an equally weighty significance: the CONIFA World Cup. This tournament is held between nations that are not recognised by FIFA, be it disputed territories, oppressed stateless people or those too small to register on the radar of the world football landscape.

Yorkshire successfully applied for membership of the Confederation of Independent Football Associations (CONIFA), playing their first ever match last weekend. Five hundred locals supporting their lads against the Isle of Man seems harmless enough on the surface, but scratch a little deeper and it quickly becomes a distasteful moment at best. CONIFA is comprised of a multitude of regions and countries with a multitude of reasons.

Tibet, for example, has suffered some of the worst human rights abuses for decades under Chinese rule. Abkhazia has been torn apart by tensions before and after the war involving Georgia, Russia and separatists. Greenland’s vast size and distance from other FIFA nations, not to mention lack of facilities, is prohibitive to competitive participation.

The purpose of creating a body which organises tournaments for these groups of people is to provide an otherwise unattainable outlet. Per-Anders Blind is from Swedish Lapland, and founded CONIFA in part after suffering a degrading attitude from others. “I was raised in a minority community where people are always looking down on you,” he told insidethegames last year. “You are an underdog, you have to fight for your right to exist. I always felt I had a mission in this world, but I didn’t know what.”

Where do Yorkshire fit into this model of oppression, human rights abuse and war? We can all chuckle at brash swaggering in isolation down the pub – where, ironically, this shit-brained idea was apparently conceived – but the very real subjugation of people and regions is no laughing matter. The Yorkshire team’s chairman espoused the reasons for justifying their membership as “a disillusionment with London-centric politics”, and then disgustingly compared the White Rose county’s ‘struggles’ to Tibet. THEIR FUCKING COUNTRY IS SUFFERING YOU PILLOCK!

The Guardian sent a reporter to cover the event in Pontefract, and the noises coming from supporters was disturbingly uninformed. “Catalans have got a team and they’re quite tasty,” one muppet said. “They’ve had Puyol, Iniesta, Fàbregas. A nice trip to Barcelona would be cracking.” A nice trip to Barcelona… give me strength. The Catalan language, history and culture is a tad more diverse than Yorkshire’s, mate.

With the 2018 World Football Cup being held in London, perhaps CONIFA themselves felt it worth drawing added attention to their cause by having a nearby representative when they admitted Yorkshire. In one sense, if that is the purpose of letting them in, then it is at least a worthy cause. The attitude of the Yorkshire folk who didn’t know where most of the countries and regions they will be facing are, though, leave a very sour taste in the mouth.

Sick of FIFA? Bored of watching England limp through to the knockouts, only to fall flat and crawl home empty-handed? Then get yourself down to the CONIFA World Cup this summer – just don’t feed the arrogance of Yorkshire.