What? Where? Two perfectly reasonable questions.
Gällivare is a small town in the far north of Sweden, or perhaps more accurately, in the heart of Samiland, the area inhabited by the nomadic Sami people, which covers parts of Sweden, Norway, Finland and Russia.
And the VIVA World Cup is the most important event in the footballing calendar for nations not recognized by football’s governing body FIFA. Not being recognized by FIFA is not so uncommon, as the Nouvelles Federations Football Association currently has over 20 national teams that are not recognized as sovereign states, including Tibet, the Isle of Man and The Romani Nation.
This year’s hosts and defending champions are the Sami nation, the indigenous people of northern Scandinavia, who have suffered in varying degrees over several centuries at the hands of ‘colonial’ Sweden, Norway, Finland and Russia.
In spite of the passion of its members, the Nouvelles Federation’s board is not the wealthiest of organizations and due to the cost of travelling to northern Sweden this year’s event has only been able to attract five teams in the men’s competition. All teams will play each other in the group phase and the two highest ranking teams will meet in the final. The nations competing are: Sápmi (Samiland), Kurdistan, Provence, Padania and Suryoye (Assyria)
There is also a women’s competition, which does not have the problem of dealing with odd numbers, as only two teams are registered to compete: Samiland and Kurdistan.
Håkan Kuorak, the vice president of the Sami Football Association, is excited about the competition, but feels that several big teams are missing, such as top ranking Zanzibar, Gibraltar and Greenland. And who can blame him? Who wouldn’t want to watch a meeting between these sporting giants?
Håkan is making the final preparations for the competition that is taking place at two grounds in Gällivare. The opening ceremony won’t be as pretentious as some of the ceremonies that precede large international events today – no acrobats, no synchronized chiffon scarf waving and no historical events recreated through the medium of dance.
But for those who love a bit of pomp and ceremony, Håkan promises a parade of (five) flags, a number of speeches, a couple of joiks (Sami folk songs) and a special appearance by the tournament’s reindeer mascot.
The town is likely to be transformed for the week of the competition as it plays host to the five competing teams plus trainers, medics and other staff, numbering an estimated 300 people in total. There will be strong support for the home side, though the Assyrian and Kurdish sides can also expect to draw support from Sweden where many of the players are resident and play professionally.
Padania (a region of Northern Italy) will be bringing at least 30 supporters and a group of press representatives.
The strongest support, of course, will be from the Sami who are expecting hundreds of supporters from the Norwegian side of the border. With their trademark chants of “You only joik when you’re winning!” and “You’ll never joik alone”, the atmosphere should be electric.
Maria Wallgren from the Gällivare tourist office is excited about the competition. Although she can’t name any of the players who will be sauntering up and down the streets of her town next week she is sure that they will be made to feel welcome.
Maria has made sure that there’s also plenty for the WAGS (Wives and girlfriends) to do. While their FIFA counterparts sip on Cristal and decide whether to wear Gucci or Prada, the WAGS in Gällivare will have to decide which to do first: A trip to Aitik, one of Europe’s largest open cast copper mines or to journey deep underground into the heart of LKAB to see high tech ore mining in action.
Maria is also keen that they get to see the midnight sunset/sunrise from the foot of Dundret mountain.
The standard of play at this year’s competition promises to be very high. The Padanians have several players who used to play in Serie A, Italy’s top flight, as well as some who still play in Serie B. The Kurds and Assyrians have players in the Swedish Allsvenskan and hosts Samiland have players from the Swedish, Norwegian and Finnish professional leagues.
The style of play of each team differs enormously, often reflecting the region they come from. Padania play in an Italian style with a strong, disciplined defence, while the Sami team play in the Norwegian style, which means quick passing and lots of running, although whether this is a style to aspire to considering Norway’s international record is questionable.
The Sami team’s home advantage may pay off with opposing teams likely to struggle with the 24 hours of daylight or a potential pitch invasion by millions of irritating midges.
Håkan Kuorak certainly fancies Samiland’s chances: “Padania are very good. They recently beat Tibet 13-2, but that’s OK. We beat Tibet 30-2”
It seems that the measure of a team’s quality is based on how many goals they can beat Tibet by. One can only feel sorry for the Tibetans; after all, haven’t they suffered enough?
The VIVA World Cup takes place in Gällivare between July 7th and 13th
Useful links: VIVA World Cup
Ben Kersley moved to Sweden in the summer of 2006. Since then he has been sending ripples throughout Sweden as an actor, writer and trainer. He is also Sweden’s only Swinglish stand up comedian.