In summer 2016, an extraordinary tournament took place: football's ‘rebel' world cup for stateless nations, minority ethnic groups and unrecognised territories. This surreal and vibrant spectacle is viewed through the eyes of the Kurdistan players and coach.
At this biggest global soccer stage outside of Fifa, teams are drawn in from across the football wilderness. The championship clashes take place in Abkhazia, a breakaway region of Georgia loyal to Vladimir Putin. All 12 teams represent stateless groups battling for global recognition as they use the tournament to press their claims for official nationhood. Any lack of sporting skills is made up by a powerful passion for identity and the beautiful game.
The Kurdistan football team represent the Kurds of war-torn Iraq and are among the favourites to win the tournament. Their coach experienced first-hand Saddam Hussein's brutal repression of the Kurds and is now determined to push his sportsmen to victory. Players converge from all over the region – some leave behind their normal jobs, others take leave from the peshmerga military forces of Iraqi Kurdistan, which fights Islamic State just 40 miles from the training ground.
The film tells a gripping story of triumph and failure, separatism and unity, nationhood and exile, against the backdrop of global events.
Will they hold their nerve in a tournament that means far more to the Kurds than mere points on a scoreboard?
Jack Losh is a British freelance journalist for publications in the UK and the US, currently with a focus on the conflict in eastern Ukraine. Sebastien Rabas is a documentary filmmaker and cinematographer based in London.
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