Football in Exile: The Chagos FA and the Struggle to Get Their Islands Back
Establishing a national football team can be difficult, particularly if the British Government forcibly depopulated your entire country.
Yet despite living in exile in Mauritius, Seychelles and the UK this is exactly what the Chagossian people have done.
Sabrina Jean is a second generation deportee who settled in the Britain in 2006 after living in Mauritius. Since 2013 she has organised the Chagos FA, who represent the Chagossian diaspora as part of Conifa – the Confederation of Independent Football Associations.
“I was inspired to start a football team after two friends of mine gave me some advice on how it can benefit my campaign,” said Mrs Jean.
“So after long consideration we started the Chagos Football Association. Now since we created the team many other countries know about the Chagossian struggle.”
The Chagos Islands are an archipelago in the Indian Ocean, administered as part of the British Indian Ocean Territory.
The islanders were deported during the 1970s so the United States could build an enormous military base in exchange for Polaris nuclear technology. More than 100 pets are said to have been gassed during the expulsion to prevent Chagossians from returning to them.
The islanders have since struggled to maintain their identity and to fight for their return. Many have settled in Crawley, West Sussex. Despite living in the UK, Chagossians are often denied citizenship by the British Government and the public remain largely unaware of the issue.
Chagossians are hoping that initiatives like the national football team will gain attention and garner public support.
The Chagos FA first played in 2013, against the Principality of Sealand. Since then they have played against sides such as Somaliland, Tamil Eelam, Panjab and Barawa. Chagos even participated in the 2016 Conifa World Cup in Abkhazia.
Chagos enter the field alongside their opponents: Bruce Grobbelaar’s Matabeleland
Funding has been a long-standing issue for the organisation. The precursor to the Chagos FA, the Union Chagossiene de Football, were forced to fold in 2012.
Mrs Jean added: “We have many difficulties, we don’t have a specific place to train also we don’t have a sponsor. We have made lots of applications to have a sponsor but these have been in vain.”
Conifa has gained a lot of publicity in recent years as a mode for which ethnic groups, identities, and other groups otherwise unable to join Fifa can compete and raise their profile.
Despite the assortment of identities within Conifa, the Chagossians are a rarity, as alongside the Rohingya FA they form one of the few participants unable to return to the country they are representing.
The chance to come together and be represented can however be taken as a welcome positive after decades of persecution.
Vice chair of the UK Chagos Support Association Stefan Donnelly said: “It’s an amazing chance for young people, most of whom have never been to the Chagos Islands, to connect with their heritage.
“As a direct result of the brutal deportations of the 1960s & 1970s, many of these young people have had hugely difficult lives. The Chagos Islands National Football Team gives them a chance to show their pride in what remains an incredibly committed, close knit and proud community.”