Romania’s autonomy-seeking Szekely Land area is sending its ‘national’ football team to compete in a tournament for unrecognised states and secessionist regions in London.

Ana Maria Luca

The Szskely Land, an area in eastern Transylvania inhabited mainly by Hungarian-speaking Szskelys, has called up its ‘national’ football team and is set to participate in the ConIFA World Cup in early June.

ConIFA The World Cup will take place from May 31 to June 9 and will also include teams from Western Armenia, the United Koreans of Japan, Abkhazia (a Russian-backed secessionist region in Georgia), Italy’s Padania, Chinese-ruled Tibet and Northern Cyprus.
According to Romanian sports publication Gazeta Sporturilor, the Székely Land team coach is Robert Ilyes, a former player from Rapid Bucharest.

Ilyes, who is currently based in his native Miercurea Ciuc in Transylvania, has called up several Romanian League One players as well as two Hungarian players for the London tournament.
The tournament is being organised by the Confederation of Independent Football Associations, CONIFA, the football federation representing all associations outside world governing body FIFA.

The non-profit organisation, established in June 2013, says it supports “representatives of international football teams from nations, de-facto nations, regions, minority peoples and sports isolated territories”. Its first world cup took place in June 2014 in Sweden.
Szekely Land is fifth in the ConIFA World Ranking 2018, after Panjab, Padania, Northern Cyprus and Ellan Vannin. It is followed by the United Koreans of Japan.
According to ConIFA’s website, the Szekelyföld LE was established in 2014 and it came ninth in the previous world cup event in 2016.

Ethnic Hungarian politicians in Szekely Land, increasingly backed by the Hungarian government led by Viktor Orban, have been demanding autonomy from the Romanian government since the fall of communism in 1989.
Romania’s main ethnic Hungarian parties signed a joint declaration in January that set out a common political agenda, including their demand for autonomy.
The move has irritated politicians in Bucharest and strained relations with the government in Budapest, which brokered the declaration.
Romania is home to approximately 1.2 million ethnic Hungarians, half of whom are Szekelys.