Written by: Alun Macer-Wright
As well as hosting this year’s CONIFA World Football Cup, the tournament marks Barawa’s debut appearance in the competition. Barawa is a port town in southwestern Somalia, with the team drawn from the Somali diaspora in England, hence why they are considered hosts in a tournament that is being played in stadiums across London. Barawa was not even a member of CONIFA last time its premier competition took place in Abkhazia in 2016, joining in July of that year.
Barawa’s side consists mainly of semi-professional players from the English non-league pyramid. With the entirety of the tournament taking place during Ramadan, most of the team will be fasting, which could pose additional challenges. It is a situation often faced in summer international tournaments, with many of the Algeria side fasting during their FIFA World Cup last-16 game against Germany.
One of the Barawa’s key organisers Haji Munye described the timing of the tournament in Ramadan as “very, very difficult”, but stressed his team’s pride at hosting the event. “Never has Barawa gained so much recognition before like we have since we’ve joined CONIFA. Our main objective is to create awareness of Barawa and promote peace and be part of the rehabilitation process in Barawa.”
The town of Barawa has a population of only around 32,800, and has traditionally been inhabited by both the Bravanese and the Tunni clan of the Somali people. The two groups have their own distinct cultures and languages, with the Bravanese speaking Chimiini (a dialect of Swahili) and the Tunni speaking Af-Tunni, alongside regular Somali.
Somalia has experienced almost constant conflict since the collapse of its central government in 1991. It has been inching towards stability under an internationally recognised government, but still faces a challaenge from Al-Qaeda-aligned Al-Shabab insurgents. A 2012 Canadian Immigration and Refugee Board report described how minority groups in Somalia such as the Bravanese are “reported to suffer daily violence and persecution”, with “their languages and cultures neither accepted nor respected”.
The Barawa FA has sought to give the Barawanese culture greater exposure around the world and actively re-develop football in the southern region of Somalia. A 10-team league has been developed in the region, with the FA and CONIFA working together to provide the resources to make this a reality.
Munye said that the team were looking forward to sharing the experience with a few players they are hoping to bring over to London. He said that the side’s aim on the pitch was simply to “perform well and avoid embarrassing results”, recognising the challenge they will face against more experienced sides at the tournament.
Over the past few years, the side have competed in the three-team World Unity Cup 2016 against the Chagos Islands and Tamil Eelam, which also took place in London, as well as various friendlies. Their results have seen Barawa placed 11th in the most recent CONIFA World Rankings, making it one of the lowest-ranked sides in this year’s competition.
In February, they came up against the YouTube-based team, Hashtag United, which finished in a 0-0 draw, and received over 350,000 views on the video-sharing platform. As part of their preparations for the World Football Cup, they will come up against Yorkshire, another relatively new CONIFA member, on 15 April at Coles Park in north London. Munye described Yorkshire as “a great addition” to the confederation, and said the opportunity to play them was too good to turn down.
Barawa will play their first World Football Cup game against Tamil Eelam on 31 May at Hayes Lane, home of Bromley FC, before further group stage games scheduled against Cascadia and Ellan Vannin. Further details, including of how to buy tickets for the matches can be found here.