PtG Article 13.03.2015

Non-FIFA football in quarrel

Since 2013, representative football teams playing outside FIFA have had the choice between two different umbrella organisations. Now the two organisations, N.F.-Board and ConIFA, are in a dispute in which the older of the two is accusing the newest of hi-jacking their idea.

The founders of a body set up for representative teams playing football outside FIFA have fallen out so badly that their increasingly acrimonious dispute is going to court.

Former president of the N.F.-Board Christian Michelis, match referee Per Anders Blind and committee member Safeen Kanbi Ahmed have been summoned to appear in the Commercial Court at Liège in Belgium, where the organisation was formed, at 11:00AM on May 7 after a complaint by the body’s secretary general, Jean Luc Kit.

Two of the people cited in the summons now work at a new rival body for football associations outside FIFA called the Confederation of Independent Football Associations (ConIFA), which Kit claims hi-jacked his idea.

Former companions

Kit formed the N.F.-Board with Michelis, a travel agent based in Monaco, after the then two friends attended the football tournament at the 1997 Island Games tournament in the Channel island of Jersey.

After years in gestation, the N.F.-Board was formed in 2003 with an aim to “to represent nations, dependencies, unrecognized states, minorities, stateless peoples, regions and micro nations not affiliated to FIFA.”

The N.F.-Board staged its first Viva World Cup (VWC) in 2006, though only after a dispute with the original hosts, the self-declared Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, over funding. The tournament was shifted to France and only three teams took part with the Sami beating Monaco 21-1 in the final.

Originally known as the Non FIFA Board, the organisation changed its name to the New Federation Board and grew in members and scope. Further editions of the VWC were staged in Swedish Sápmi (2008), Padania in northern Italy (2009) and the Maltese island of Gozo (2010).

Alleged financial discrepancies

The last tournament held in Iraqi Kurdistan in June 2012 was the biggest and most successful and organised by the Kurdistan Football Association (KFA), whose president is Safeen Kanbi Ahmed.

The Kurdistan Regional Government helped the KFA bring in eight teams representing areas as diverse as Darfur, Provence and Zanzibar. The tournament was watched by big crowds and broadcast on the Al Iraqiya TV network. More than 20,000 fans watched Kurdistan beat Northern Cyprus 2-1 at the Franso Hariri Stadium in Arbil, but the N.F.-Board now alleges there were financial discrepancies.

“A huge amount of money has simply disappeared,” alleges Christophe Croze, director of N.F.-Board Europe. “The Belgian tax office was also warned of that fact by us and started to investigate on the issue.”

Resignations and suspensions

After the 2012 VWC, the relationship between Kit and Michelis began to fracture. Michelis resigned after the N.F.-Board’s annual general meeting in Munich in February 2013 but Croze says this resignation was not accepted.

Croze adds: “Many points were still unclear during his presidency, especially money issues. The Board decided to suspend him until all the shadow will be cleared out.”

Michelis, who says he has not received any court summons, denies any financial wrong-doing.

He says: “[Kit] thinks he is the owner of non FIFA football but there is only one football with different organisations. I don’t understand what he writes. How can he say I am suspended when I resigned? I only understand that it’s crazy.”

In the early days of the N.F.-Board, Michelis and Kit visited FIFA headquarters in Zurich to meet the world body’s then director of international relations Jerome Champagne, and in 2011 the United Nation’s Economic and Social Council recognised the N.F.-Board, but after the Munich annual general meeting (AGM) there was a damaging split. The rival ConIFA later emerged and last year staged its first tournament, the World Football Cup, at Östersund in Sweden.

‘The dispute is personal’

Swedish referee Per-Anders Blind was the only official to take charge of matches at all the N.F.-Board tournaments. He is now ConIFA president and insists that the dispute is not with his organisation, but between Kit and Michelis.

Blind explains: “Me privately [I have] never been a part of any N.F.-Board decision, I haven´t been a member of the organisation or its board. My engagement inside N.F.-Board has been as referee. In that period of time I became personal friend of Mr Michelis and since I´m a professional business developer I´ve supported the growth of N.F.-Board as an external advisor – but with no major insights or taken part of any decisions inside N.F.-Board.

“I attended at the N.F.-Board annual general meeting in Munich and saw the collapse of the organisation because of the dispute inside their board, and the operational part of the organisation vanished. The basic idea of N.F.-Board was good – but there was no one left that could take this further. Since many [associations] knew me as a good person they talked to me and asked if I could continue the work, so I started to write a new constitution and build an organisation with 100 % democratic processes and also 100 % transparency – something that was missing inside N.F.-Board” Blind says.

In July 2013, a meeting was held between some teams participating in a tournament on the Isle of Man and other N.F.-Board members via video conferencing that led to the formation of ConIFA.

“This is something Jean Luc Kit in person [found] very hard to accept and he has declared a personal war against ConIFA since that time.”

In response, Kit says: “ConIFA copy us in all. The Court will ask to Michelis, Blind and others why. And then, they will have to reply.”

Blind says he will not attend the hearing in Belgium, but will write a letter to put his side of the story. ConIFA is now based in the Isle of Man and vice president Malcolm Blackburn also says the dispute has nothing to do with his organisation. His understanding is that the N.F.-Board’s concerns mainly relate to intellectual property rights, which Blackburn insists cannot apply to setting up of a sports organisation, but he is concerned that the wording of the statement could be libellous.

The N.F.-Board statement reads: “Some former leading members of our organisation are summoned by the Belgian Justice to provide explanation about some facts regarding projects and tournament’s misappropriations, especially in Ostersund and the Isle of Man, on behalf of a new association (the ConIFA) duplicated on all points from N.F.-Board’s pattern.”

The N.F.-Board has not accused ConIFA of misappropriating funds, but in England the word misappropriate applies generally to money.

“That was the only word that got to me,” says Blackburn, who is saddened by the developments but claims he has been harassed by the N.F.-Board.

Uncertainty about member federations

The N.F.-Board, which wants to stage another VWC in 2015, claims 50 members. ConIFA now has more than 30 members, many of whom are also claimed by the N.F.-Board, which some associations insist they never joined.

The Pacific island of Pohnpei is listed as an N.F.-Board member but former national coach Paul Watson says: “I can guarantee that Pohnpei never joined the N.F.-Board. I remember that people in Yap got quite angry because they were listed as members for a while for no reason and got annoyed with emails about it.”

The N.F.-Board did not respond to this allegation.

“At the moment I know that ConIFA would love to add Pohnpei/Micronesia and are making efforts, but to be honest there's no point really. It simply doesn't mean anything to say that you're a member of one of these organisations. I'm sure they can invite Micronesia to compete in a competition, but they can't help find the £30,000 that would be necessary, so it's pretty pointless,” Watson says.

Blackburn admits funds are scarce at ConIFA and, despite his concerns over the wording of the allegations, he laughs at the suggestion that any funds could have been misappropriated by his organisation.

“We’ve got proper corporate governance and accountants, but there aren’t any funds to misappropriate,” says Blackburn.

Michelis no longer has any involvement in either organisation and sees a bitter irony in the misunderstanding.

Michelis adds: “It was fantastic in the start, but the three persons that Jean Luc Kit has accused have put a lot of money to help all these teams play matches. I have had no more contact with anyone. I put all that aside because of these problems. It was fantastic at the start; all I know is that it’s a shame.”