Sports

The Geography of FIFA & International Recognition

FIFA divides the world into the six regions:





These six “continents” hold a a quarry of curiosities.

Palestine competes as its own country in the South Asian Football Federation, and is a FIFA member. On the other side of the West Bank, Israel is the only country in the region that competes in the European UEFA.

The South American nations Suriname, Guyana, and French Guina, all compete in the North America & Carribean CONCACAF. Curious to see these three nations classified as Carribean, while the evidence points that they clearly lie on the South American continent.

Australia is, strangely, excluded from the Oceania region. Oceania is the smallest region, and receives the fewest bids to the world cup. Kiribati, Micronesia, Niue, and Palau are all part of the Oceanian regional football federation, but are non-FIFA members. New Zealand is the region’s lone upstart representative in the World Cup.

The United Kingdom does not recognize FIFA so that Scotland, Wales, and the English can settle their differences on the pitch. The fact that the UK scoffs at the idea of performing as a single state can be bolstered by the fact that nearly the whole of their former empire competes in the Commonwealth Games.

Other UN states that are not in FIFA include Monaco, Kosovo, Nauru and the Vatican city.

Nauru has declined FIFA membership, as the washed up phosphorous mine has no space or money to spare on football. What will happen to the Tuvalu and Maldives’ federations, as their countries sink. The rule to date has been no country, no state.

After a few head scratchers with the continental groupings, the real fun starts when you get into the areas that begin to call into question the difference between a country and a state.

FIFA really gets interesting when you look into the provisional members of the Nouvelle Nouvelle Fédération-Board, whose members are composed of people without states, new states, and sovereign territories. FIFA has its eyes on would be states, to assist their international recognition on the pitch, should the receive international recognition. Their list of provisional members is an impressive list of obscuro-geography:

The Chechen Republic of Ichkeria, Casamance, Western Sahara, Yap (a Micronesian state), Zanzibar, Sardinia, the Kingdom of the two Sicilies, Easter Island, Maasai, and the micrnoation of Sealand all have made inroads with FIFA through this program for future membership.

Sicily and Kurdistan have already played an international friendly, facilitated by the Nouvelle Fédération-Board. Which now hosts the VIVA world cup, the creme de la creme for non-FIFA-member states. Padania, a province of Northern Italy, most recently defeatedIraqi-Kurdistan for the title of best football team without an internationally recognized state.

For those who are curious, Tibet has been repeatedly thrashed on an international stage. And it’s doubtful China will allow its membership any time soon.

The Assyrian people, a diaspora of 3 million, have a larger population than this world cup’s tiniest contender, Slovenia, a population of 2 million. Still, without an internationally recognized state, a world cup berth is a dream that must follow a revolution.

Many of these tiny countries will remain provisional members, and it’s doubtful we’ll see an independence movement hinging on FIFA membership on its core ideal. Don’t be surprised if you see Somaliland, Greenland, Kosovo, Zanzibar, and Iraqi Kurdistan make the jump to full time membership in the coming decade.

Greenland’s admission begs the question of whether the state should compete in CONCACAF or UEFA, with European cultural ties, but is part of the North American continent.

FIFA recognition would likely follow a tremendous milestone in international recognition.

With that said… Go Zanzibar!

Circassia and the 2014 Winter Olympics

Yesterday’s post referred to the Ossetians as a people of “profound world-historical significance,” a phrase that fits their neighbors, the Circassians, even better. That members of the so-called White race are called “Caucasians” stems largely from the widespread nineteenth-century European notion that the Circassians, natives of the northwestern Caucasus, somehow represented the ideal human form. A hundred and fifty years ago, the Circassians were well known in Europe and the United States, celebrated for their bravery and especially their beauty. Mass-marketing advertisement campaigns hawked “Circassian lotion,” “Circassian Hair Dye,” and “Circassian soap”; P.T. Barnum even exhibited fake “Circassian beauties.” Yet in our time, this once-famous group has virtually vanished from view; when I recently asked a class of 160 Stanford undergraduates if anyone had heard of them, not a single hand was raised.

The Circassians’ world-historical significance derives not from their supposed physical attributes, but from the singular niche they occupied in the eastern Mediterranean from late medieval to early modern times. To put it starkly, Circassians served as elite slaves in the major Muslim states of the region. Although the notion of “elite slaves” may seem self-contradictory, unfree individuals could rise to very high positions. Muslim rulers had long staffed their armies in part with enslaved soldiers – Mamluks – and at several times and places such troops essentially took over the state. The Mamluk Burji dynasty that ruled Egypt from 1382 to 1517 was founded by, and composed largely of, Circassian soldiers of servile background. Circassian women who were exported into servitude could end up as concubines or even wives of Ottoman and Persian sultans. Such women could become powerful in their own right, especially if one of their sons rose to the top position.

The Circassians’ downfall came at the hands of the Russians in the 1860s. The Russia Empire reached across the Caucasus to encompass Christian Georgia in the early 1800s, but – as the map above indicates – it failed to subdue Circassia. (Note that the map incorrectly places Chechnya and adjacent areas within Circassia.) Having fought the Circassians for roughly a century, Russia’s leaders decided to expel the population. Some 80 to 90 percent of the Circassians were forced out; most found refuge in the Ottoman Empire, but nearly half died in the process. Today the Circassian population in Russia has recovered to number some 900,000. In Turkey, roughly two to four million people are of Circassian descent, and the Circassian community in Jordan numbers about 150,000. It is doubtful, however, whether Circassian culture can survive outside of the Caucasian homeland.

Circassian activists are now pushing Russia and the global community to recognize the events of the 1860s as constituting genocide. They hope to use the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia – once a Circassian port – to bring their historical plight to global attention. As Sufian Zhemukhov reported in the Circassian World website in September, 2009, “Most Circassians see the Sochi Olympics as an opportunity to plead their case, rather than as an offense to be resisted. Still, many Circassians have opposed the Winter Games on the grounds that they will take place on ‘ethnically-cleansed’ land. Some Circassian NGOs have branded the Olympics the “Games on Bones” and opposed construction work [that] could endanger important burial sites. In October 2007, … Circassian activists organized meetings in front of Russian consulates in New York and Istanbul to protest against holding the Winter Games in Sochi. Finally, the Circassian anti-Olympic movement began to seek official Russian recognition of the Circassian genocide and called on the IOC to move the Games.” (http://www.circassianworld.com/new/general/1382-circassian-dimension-2014sochi-szhemukh.html)

More immediately, Circassian activists want Russia to create a single internal republic for the four legally defined ethnic groups (the Adyghe, Cherkesm, Shapsugs, and Kabardin) that together constitute the Circassian people. That complicated issue, however, must be the subject of a later posting.

 

Kalmykia: The Republic of Chess

Certain parts of the world are so closely associated with a specific issue or activity that other matters tend to fade from view, at least as far as the international media are concerned. Consider, for example, Kalmykia, a Russian internal republic located northwest of the Caspian Sea. Larger in area than the Republic of Ireland, Kalmykia is a significant place with a fascinating history. In the international news, however, Kalmykia means one thing: chess. Today’s Google news search on the region yielded 23 articles: three concern inflation in Russia, one examines a local offshore oilfield, another mentions the republic’s improvements in beef processing, and the rest focus on chess.

The prominence of chess in Kalmykia stems from the efforts of the republic’s president, Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, a multi-millionaire who has been president of FIDE (the World Chess Federation) since 1995. A chess fanatic, Ilyumzhinov has made the study of the game compulsory in Kalmykia’s elementary schools. With a reputation for being both charismatic and authoritarian, Ilyumzhinov has bragged about introducing an “economic dictatorship” to the republic.

Kalmykia deserves notice for more than its role in the chess world. The Kalmyks, who constitute a bit more than half of the republic’s roughly 300,000 people, speak a Mongolian language and traditionally follow Tibetan Buddhism. The notion of a Tibetan Buddhist majority republic lying within Europe (as Europe is “continentally” defined) would strike most readers as odd indeed, but the Kalmyk presence in the region dates back to the early 1600s. The current Kalmyk community is actually a remnant group, as “Kalmyk” literally means “those who remained.” The far western Mongols had been important allies of the Russian Empire as it expanded into the Caucasus and Central Asia, but when the Czar’s government started to undermine local autonomy, most of the community undertook a vast – and deadly – exodus back to Mongolia.

Much of Kalmykia’s subsequent history has been painful. Many Kalmyks sided with anti-communist forces during the Russian civil war, provoking harsh retribution after the war ended. In the 1930s, Stalin disastrously collectivized Kalmyk herding, resulting indirectly in some 60,000 deaths. He also attacked the Buddhist establishment, burning libraries and shuttering monasteries. Not surprisingly, many Kalmyks welcomed the German invaders in 1942; some 3,000 local men actually joined the German army, serving in three Kalmyk units. In retaliation, Stalin ordered the entire Kalmyk population deported to Central Asia in 1943. An estimated one in three perished in route. In 1957, Khrushchev allowed the Kalmyks to return, restoring their (supposedly) autonomous republic.

Today the Republic is doing reasonably well, thanks to oil, agriculture, and perhaps chess. The Kalmyks benefit from their relatively high levels of education and their international connections. Overseas communities are found today in many parts of Europe and in the United States. The U.S. center of the Kalmyk diaspora—Monmouth County, New Jersey—supports several Kalmyk Buddhist temples as well as a monastery. The head of the religious establishment in Kalmykia itself is Philadelphia-born Erdne Ombadykow (Telo Tulku Rinpoche), who was recognized by the Dalai Lama as a reincarnation of a Buddhist saint. Ombadykow spends half of each year with his followers in Kalmykia, and the other half with his family in Colorado.