Cheering Chagos: How football gave an island a voice

No matter how high the mountain, when football is involved anything is possible.

The football story of Chagos Islands not only defies belief, it illustrates how football gives people a voice and a sense of identity.

Little known nation Chagos Islands will travel 10,000 miles to participate in their first ever CONIFA World Cup.

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The footballing tale of Chagos Islands dates all the way back to the 1960’s. The beautiful islands in the Indian Ocean were sold, or often described by natives as ‘stolen’ by British Government who leased out the territory to the United States, turning a major part of the land on Diego Garcia into a naval base.

The people were forced to leave and have been living abroad in exile ever since. Many of the Chagossian people relocated to the UK after being given British passports.

To make matters worse, FIFA banished Chagos from participating in any international competitions.

A large number of second and third generation immigrants now call Crawly Town home. In the town of West Sussex close to Brighton & Hove, a nation that has lost its identity has formed a close-knit community.

Unknown to many, the people of Chagos are mad about football, and have gone to extreme measures in order to play on the international stage.

After joining CONIFA-(an independent body from FIFA for nations, dependencies, unrecognized states, minorities, stateless peoples, regions, and micro-nations not affiliated to FIFA) Chagos Islands were invited to play in the 2016 CONIFA World Cup.

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The Cheer Chagos campaign, co-founded by Journalist Ben Davies has made a nations dream come true.

It only took 30 days for a town in England to raise £1000, enough to get the team on their 10,000 mile journey to Abkhazia on the eastern coast of the Black Sea.

Unlike most tournaments, the main motive for Chagos is not only to win games. Reaching their destination is an achievement in itself; it’s the opportunity for a football team to empower its people and give them a voice to the world.

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Regardless of the stage, the players will take great honour in wearing their nation’s kit with pride, often described by footballers as the greatest moment in their careers.

It may be fate or just an unusual coincidence, but 2016 marks the 50th anniversary and the end of the United States 50 year lease.

Let’s hope the exposure generated from their story can be a trigger for change, and a wake up to the United Nations.

The 2016 CONIFA World Cup kicks off on the 29th of May.

Abkhazia v Chagos Islands

Ari Charilaou