Beyond Euro 2016

Inside the football tournament for the world's most unrecognised states

All eyes are on which country will win Euro 2016 in the long-awaited final this weekend. But what about those footballers from states that aren’t recognised by the rest of the world?

In May, Russian photographer Andrey Borodulin travelled to Abkhazia, a de facto republic in the South Caucasus, where the ConIFA (Confederation of Independent Football Associations) World Cup — a tournament for unrecognised and isolated states — was held.

Abkhazia was heavily affected by the Georgian-Abkhaz separatist war between 1992-93, traces of which can still be found in the capital Sukhumi, such as the burnt former Parliament Building in the city centre.

The territory finally declared independence from Georgia in 1999. The ConIFA World Cup was the first major event to take place in the region, attracting visitors from across the world.

A total of 12 teams competed in the tournament: the Chagos Islands, Kurdistan, Northern Cyprus, Padania, Panjab, Raetia, Sapmi, Somaliland, Székely Land, United Koreans in Japan and Western Armenia.

ConIFA was established in 2013, with the inaugural tournament taking place in Sweden the following year.

This was an important tournmament for Abkazhia who were not only hosting but competing for the first time.

Borodulin captured the celebratory atmosphere across Abkhazia, particularly in the coastal town of Gagra, where the Székely Land vs Somaliland match coincided with graduating ceremonies at local schools.

During the Soviet era, Gagra and Sukhumi were popular beach destinations, earning the coastline the nickname of “Red Riviera”.

After the war, much of the beachfront was left in ruin, including the Sukhumi pier.

Focussing on the locals, the series shows the sense of national pride from the stadiums to the streets.

Abkhazia made it into the final to face Panjab, with many fans gathering outside Sukhumi’s Dynamo stadium to catch sight of game.

The crowd sported green and red, the colours of the Abkazhian flag adopted in 1992.

A woman is seen holding up a portrait of Vladislav Ardzinba, the first President of Abkhazia, who led the republic to independence during the 1992-93 war with Georgia.

To the locals’ delight, after a 1-1 draw, Abkazhia beat Panjab 6-5 on penalties, a result that’s warmed the spirit of the war-torn limbo-state.

Text: Liza Premiyak
Image: Andrey Borodulin