BERNE, Switzerland, June 1 (Reuters) - The Sorbs, the Cimbrians and the Welsh are among the teams bidding for European glory this week at an unusual international soccer tournament being played on the fringes of Euro 2008.
Reaching its climax on June 7 in the Swiss city of Chur - just as Euro 2008 kicks off in Basel - the Europeada tournament is being contested by amateur teams representing minority language groups from across the continent.
“The idea started with a football game that was organised at the 2006 World Cup in Germany between the national minorities union FUEN (Federal Union of European Nationalities) and a Sorbian team who happened to be on tour at the time,” tournament spokesman Andrea Rassel told Reuters.
“The tournament grew out of that and we now have 17 teams taking part - which by the way is one more than they have at Euro 2008.”
For soccer fans more familiar with Serbians than Sorbians, the latter are a Slavonic nation with a population of around 50,000 in the Lusatia region straddling Germany and Poland.
Other title contenders, as designated by country on the Europeada website, include Switzerland’s Rhaetians, the Aromunians of Romania and the Occitaniians of France.
Although many of the teams share common concerns over the dwindling of their communities or a frequent lack of political recognition, Rassel says the aim of the event is simply to enjoy football.
“By organising this tournament we do hope to show that Europe’s linguistic minorities add up to quite a large number of people, roughly one in seven of the continent’s population,” he told Reuters.
“But there are no forums or debates planned. We want to use football to show that it can also be fun to be part of a minority and that we don’t go around all the time campaigning for political rights.”
Rassel acknowledges that the tournament has faced plenty of logistical challenges. Two teams from Eastern Europe pulled out at short notice due to a lack of funds. Another was turned back at the Swiss border because of problems with their visas.
Curiously however the organisers are not expecting language itself to be much of a problem.
“We have a lot of teams representing Germanic groups living in countries such as Poland and Denmark so German will be used a lot, and the teams from the former Eastern bloc countries can usually get by with Russian or English.
“We’ve seen from similar events in the past that the various groups all find ways to communicate with each other and for the younger people English is obviously the most common solution.”
While the tournament boasts some exotic-sounding participants, it seems even the world of minority language soccer has its big guns.
“I’ve heard that the team from Flensburg, representing the Danish minorities in Germany are pretty set on winning the title,” says Rassel. “Then you have to consider the Catalans as contenders given the importance of football all across Spain.
“But I personally think the Welsh team will be hard to beat as they are an established tournament side who are used to playing together.
“And the fact that no other British sides made it over here for Euro 2008 has certainly given them something to prove.”
Editing by Dave Thompson