Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, guest-edits the New Statesman

The magazine will contain contributions from Jonathan Sacks, Maurice Glasman, and Iain Duncan Smith,

This week's New Statesman magazine is guest-edited by Rowan Williams and features contributions by Philip Pullman, A S Byatt, Gordon Brown, Richard Curtis, Jonathan Sacks and other surprise guests.

For this 80-page edition of the magazine, Dr Williams has commissioned a wide range of essays, articles and reports, interviewed a senior cabinet minister and written the leading article.

The issue examines all the complexities of David Cameron's flagship policy idea of the "big society", with analysis and commentary from the Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks, Maurice Glasman and Iain Duncan Smith, among others.

There are contributions from two vicars -- Rev Lucy Winkett recounts visiting a casino in a dog collar, and Rev Mary Bide relives the highs and lows of minding the church next to the tennis courts at Wimbledon -- as well as an actor who plays a vicar on television: Tom Hollander, star of the Bafta-winning sitcom Rev.

There are atheists and secularists in the mix, too. Among the other writers in this bespoke issue of the New Statesman are: Philip Pullman, who explains why he's a "Church of England atheist"; Terry Eagleton on secularism; the award-winning film director Richard Curtis, who writes about the scourge of malaria; and Victoria Coren, who addresses the vexed question of faith versus poker.

The Booker Prize-winning novelist A S Byatt contributes a new short story, "The Lucid Dreamer", written specially for the issue.

Jason Cowley, editor of the New Statesman, said: "I have long admired Rowan Williams as a thinker and public intellectual. His previous contributions to the magazine under my editorship have been both thoughtful and thought-provoking. We agreed that he would guest-edit the magazine over lunch at Lambeth Palace in January; we have been working on the issue ever since.

"Although the New Statesman is a secular magazine, we recognise Dr Williams's contribution to public and political debate, and this is an important intervention from him. I'm delighted with the issue."

Dr Rowan Williams said: "This is not a platform for the establishment to explain itself -- any more than the New Statesman ever is. The hope is that it may be possible to spark some livelier debate about where we are going, perhaps even to discover what the left's big idea currently is."

The issue, cover-dated 13 June, will go on sale in London on Thursday 9 June and in the rest of the country from Friday 10 June. International buyers can obtain copies through our website.

Getty
Show Hide image

The World Cup you’ve never heard of, where the teams have no state

At the Conifa world cup – this year hosted by the Autonomous Republic of Abkhazia – ethnic groups, diaspora communities and disputed territories will battle for footballing glory.

Football's European Championship and the Olympics are set to dominate the back pages over the next few months. How will Team GB fare in Rio? Will the zika virus stop the tournament even going ahead? Will the WAGS prove to be a distraction for the Three Lions? And can Roy Hodgson guide England to a long-awaited trophy?

But before the sprinters are in their blocks or a ball has been kicked, there's a world cup taking place.

Only this world cup is, well, a bit different. There's no Brazil, no damaged metatarsals to speak of, and no Germany to break hearts in a penalty shootout.  There’s been no sign of football’s rotten underbelly rearing its head at this world cup either. No murmurs of the ugly corruption which has plagued Fifa in recent years. Nor any suggestion that handbags have been exchanged for hosting rights.

This biennial, unsung world cup is not being overseen by Fifa however, but rather by Conifa (Confederation of Independent Football Associations), the governing body for those nations discredited by Fifa. Among its member nations are ethnic groups, diaspora communities or disputed territories with varying degrees of autonomy. Due to their contested status, many of the nations are unable to gain recognition from Fifa. As a consequence they cannot compete in tournaments sanctioned by the best-known footballing governing body, and that’s where Conifa provides a raison d’être.

“We give a voice to the unheard”, says Conifa’s General Secretary, Sascha Düerkop, whose world cup kicks off in the Autonomous Republic of Abkhazia at the end of this week.

“We are proud to give our members a forum where they can put themselves on the map.

“From that we hope to give back in the long run and invest in the football infrastructure in our member nations to help them grow.”

The two week footballing celebration starts with an opening ceremony before Kurdistan and Székely Land kick off the tournament. It follows on from 2014’s maiden competition which saw The County of Nice avenging a group stage defeat to Ellan Vannin from the Isle of Man, to take the spoils in the final via a penalty shoot-out.  There were some blowout scores of note however, with South Ossetia smashing Darfur 20-0 and Kurdistan beating the Tamils 9-0 at the event which took place in Östersund, Sweden. Neither of the finalists will be returning to the tournament – throwing down the gauntlet to another twelve teams. 

This, the second Conifa world cup, is testament to the ever-expanding global footprint of the tournament. Abkhazia will welcome sides from four continents – including Western Armenia, the Chagos Islands, United Koreans in Japan and Somaliland.

Despite the “minor” status of the countries taking part, a smattering of professional talent lends credibility to the event. Panjab can call on the experience of ex-Accrington Stanley man Rikki Bains at the heart of their defence, and the coaching savoir-faire of former Tranmere star Reuben Hazell from the dugout. Morten Gamst Pedersen, who turned out for Blackburn Rovers over 300 times and was once a Norwegian international, will lead the Sapmi people. The hosts complete the list of teams to aiming to get their hands on silverware along with Padania, Northern Cyprus, and Raetia.

A quick glance down said list, and it’s hard to ignore the fact that most of the nations competing have strong political associations – be that through war, genocide, displacement or discrimination. The Chagos Islands is one such example. An archipelago in the Indian Ocean, Chagos’ indigenous population was uprooted by the British government in the 1960s to make way for one of the United States' most strategically important military bases – Diego Garcia.

Ever since, they've been campaigning for the right to return. Their side, based in Crawley, has crowdfunded the trip to the tournament. Yet most of its members have never stepped foot on the islands they call home, and which they will now represent. Kurdistan’s efforts to establish an independent state have been well-highlighted, even more so given the last few years of conflict in the Middle East. The hosts too, broke away from Georgia in the 1990s and depend on the financial clout of Russia to prop up their government.

Despite that, Düerkop insists that the event is one which focuses on action on the pitch rather than off it. 

“Many of the nations are politically interested, but we are non-political,” he says. 

“Some of our members are less well-known in the modern world. They have been forgotten, excluded from the global community or simply are ‘unpopular’ for their political positions.

“We are humanitarians and the sides play football to show their existence – nothing more, nothing less.”

The unknown and almost novel status of the tournament flatters to deceive as Conifa’s world cup boasts a broadcast deal, two large stadiums and a plush opening ceremony. Its aim in the long run, however, is to develop into a global competition, and one which is content to sit below Fifa.

“We are happy to be the second biggest football organisation,” admits Düerkop.

“In the future we hope to have women’s and youth tournaments as well as futsal and beach soccer.”

“Our aim is to advertise the beauty and uniqueness of each nation.”

“But the most important purpose is to give those nations that are not members of the global football community a home.”

George Weah, the first African winner of Fifa World Player of the Year award remarked how “football gives a suffering people joy”.

And after speaking to Düerkop there’s certainly a feeling that for those on the game’s periphery, Conifa’s world cup has an allure which offers a shared sense of belonging.

It certainly seems light years away from the glitz and glamour of WAGs and corruption scandals. And that's because it is.

But maybe in a small way, this little-known tournament might restore some of beauty lost by the once “beautiful game”.