The rebel World Cup: on the road with Kurdistan's football team
They’re denied entry to the official tournament, but can Kurdistan’s footballers take home the trophy at the alternative contest?
A wall-length trophy cabinet dominates the office of Safeen Kanabi, the portly president of the Kurdistan Football Association (KFA). It is late April, far from the peak of summer, yet the air conditioning inside this back room at Irbil FC’s stadium in northern Iraq is on full blast – respite from the heat consuming the concrete sprawl outside, just 40 miles from the nearest frontline with Islamic State.
The crowded cabinet is full of cups and shields from local leagues and international meetings, including a friendly held in Palestine, that partially recognised state that, like Iraqi Kurdistan, dreams of full sovereignty. There is an imposing silver hawk, presented to the association to mark the fall of Saddam Hussein. But there is one absent trophy for which the Kurds still hunger: the alternative World Cup, given at one of the most vibrant and outlandish tournaments in sport.