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  • Writer's pictureSophia Sapioper

Interview General Secretary of Conifa

General Secretary of CONIFA

The secretary of the Football Association West Papua, Jeroen Zandberg, was elected as CONIFA's new General Secretary on 7 August 2022. Sophia Bunga-Sapioper interviews him about his new position.

You were elected General Secretary of CONIFA on August 7th. What does that mean?

CONIFA is an international membership organization of football associations of underrepresented countries and peoples. Since 2013, CONIFA has hosted many major international football tournaments, including biannual European and World Championships. I hope that in my new position as General Secretary I can contribute to the further development of CONIFA and the success of its affiliated members.

You have been working as the secretary for the Football Association West Papua for a long time. Is that why you were elected General Secretary of CONIFA?

I hope the reason I was chosen as General Secretary is that they expect me to be able to strengthen CONIFA in that position. But you should really ask them. I do know that I was excited when I got the opportunity to become General Secretary. I think I have a lot to offer CONIFA and the members and that I can make a good contribution to the further development of the organization. In previous years I have organized several football matches and tournaments for underrepresented countries and peoples. I was also one of the founders of the Football Federation of Chameria and, as its secretary, I took part in the 2019 European Football Championship in Artsakh. This was a fantastic event with the whole country taking part in the very successful festivities. It is an example for every international event. I am also one of the co-founders of the Football Association of West Papua, which from 2017 has played some well-watched matches against East Turkestan, Tamil Eelam and Katanga, among others. The Football Association West Papua has been an official member of CONIFA since January 2020 and we are very satisfied with the possibilities that membership offers. Unfortunately, the corona lockdown meant that we were unable to perform many of the planned activities between 2020 and 2022. Of course everyone suffered from this and now that society has reopened, we want to seize all opportunities that come our way.

How do you want to seize those opportunities?

Next year CONIFA will celebrate its tenth anniversary and I have the feeling that we are only at the beginning of what we can achieve. As General Secretary I want to help the organization make that potential a reality. I have been working with minorities for twenty years in their struggle not to be a minority anymore, but to become a full member of the international community. I am currently the executive director of the Global Diplomatic Council and my work is largely focused on the United Nations and the European and other international institutions. I will use my knowledge, skills and network that I have there to get the best for CONIFA and its members.

And what will be your practical activities?

I am not so much a man of words, but of political practice. For example, as part of my daily work I very regularly submit reports to the various United Nations committees, give speeches at conferences in Geneva and other important locations and often speak with parliamentarians to draw attention to the interests of underrepresented peoples, countries and minorities. I will try to establish partnerships with international organizations so that CONIFA and its members have more opportunities to become part of international sports programmes. In addition, I will focus on obtaining long-term institutional funding to financially support CONIFA and the members with building up the organization and, among other things, training young people and organizing events. Next year CONIFA will be ten years old and I will do my best to help make this a great year for football.

Those are grand ambitions.

CONIFA is an organization born out of grand ideals and ambitions to change the world. Although it is an organization that brings football associations together, the ideals that underpin it make CONIFA unique and a leader of social change.

Football is different from politics.

I see football as an example for society. Sport is a game; it is not about competition, but about cooperation and inclusiveness. I see the CONIFA football competition as an example for society, because the real victory lays in full and equal participation. After all, there is no competition when only a few teams or individuals take everything for themselves at the expense of others. Then you would find yourself on the field playing soccer against yourself and everyone turns their back on you and all others. CONIFA is an organization that promotes inclusiveness. Wonderful examples of this are also women's football and the no-limit tournaments. In July of this year, a successful World Women's Cup was held in India. The No-limit tournaments, in which people with disabilities play against each other, also show CONIFA's ambitions to offer all people the opportunity to participate. Inclusiveness is necessary to have a fair competition that people like to watch and identify with. Of course you don't want to look at mean fighters who undermine others. You want to look at honest, fit and open-minded players who get the most out of themselves and believe in winning together with the team and want to play in a fair competition. I want to help shape that good and honest competition, on the field and in society.

Do you also play football?

I'm a little too old for that. My experience as an active football player is limited to a very short career as goalkeeper in the little children’s football league. Furthermore, I have only played hockey and martial arts in the distant past. I therefore see my work as General Secretary as playing outside the lines. I will work together with the president and the other CONIFA board members to take football to an even higher level for underrepresented peoples and countries. I see CONIFA as an organization that has an important task in the field of football diplomacy and human rights, sport and development and the emancipation and inclusiveness of women, minorities and everyone else.

Will you continue to work for the Football Association West Papua?

Besides my commitment to CONIFA I will also continue to commit myself to the Football Association West Papua, because I believe in the great value it has for the Papuans. I have seen the pride, hope and inspiration of the Papuans when the players of the national team in their shiny Birds-of-paradise shirts walk onto the field with the Morning Star flag in their hands and the national anthem starts playing. You can hardly overestimate the impact of such an event on people who are marginalized and whose identity is suppressed. That work must always continue. The work that the board members Simon, Delon, Gary and others do for the association is voluntary, but at the same time very valuable for the players and the Papuan people. Furthermore, we do our best to convince society of its great value. I also see that as one of my main duties as General Secretary of CONIFA; to convince the world of the value of our work, our teams and our ideals. I have great hopes, as well as dreams, for the future and will be working with great enthusiasm for the football teams of West Papua and all other underrepresented nations that are members of CONIFA to change all our fates and make it a better more inclusive world for all.

General Secretary Conifa - Jeroen Zandberg

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