ECMI Minorities Blog. European Football Championship of the Autochthonous Minorities Comes to the Danish-German Border Region: A Preview of Europeada 2024.

Sergiusz Bober & Craig Willis
Electronic poster at the seat of the German minority in Aabenraa/Apenrade (Denmark) highlighting the upcoming game in Europeada women’s tournament. Picture: Sergiusz Bober
Electronic poster at the seat of the German minority in Aabenraa/Apenrade (Denmark) highlighting the upcoming game in Europeada men’s tournament. Picture: Sergiusz Bober

*** The blog posts are prepared by the authors in their personal capacity. The views expressed in the blog posts are the sole responsibility of the authors concerned and do not necessarily reflect the view of the European Centre for Minority Issues. ***

Authors: Sergiusz Bober and Craig Willis  |



With the Euro 2024 football tournament already underway, the attention of fans is firmly focused on German stadiums which are set to be attended by millions. Yet, up in the very north, the border area of Denmark and Germany has a parallel focus as it will host the fifth edition of Europeada – a football tournament for autochthonous minorities. Organised by an umbrella organisation, the Federal Union of European Nationalities (FUEN), fourteen venues will host 24 men’s teams and 9 women’s teams from all corners of Europe during the period of 28th June to 7th July, with defending champions being, respectively, South Tyrol and Team Koroška. This blog post intends to act as a preview to the tournament. First, it covers the significance of sport for minority communities more broadly by discussing several historical and contemporary examples, to subsequently zoom in on this aspect in the Danish-German border region. Afterwards, the attention is turned to the history of Europeada, the diversity of minorities represented and how the tournament fits in the work of FUEN. The concluding section reflects upon the event’s chances of becoming successful in relation to its intended goals.

The importance of sport for minority identities

Sport as a social activity bringing together members of minority groups is by no means a recent phenomenon. For example, interwar Poland, at that time a country of a significant degree of diversity with ethnic Poles making just 65% of the overall population in 1931, saw numerous sports organisations anchored within its minority groups, frequently characterised by a strong national orientation. Jewish community produced several relatively successful football clubs, with some, like Hasmonea Lwów (current Lviv in Ukraine) or Jutrzenka Kraków spending short spells in the country’s top football division. Importantly, in the context of relatively large minority groups sport can also create space for showcasing more complex identities, for instance, linked to political preferences. Thus, interwar Warsaw had several Jewish football clubs with close links to political parties such as Bund (Jutrznia Warszawa), Poalej Syjon-Prawica (Hapoel Warszawa) or Agudat Israel (Hasmonea Warszawa). In terms of sporting success, Jewish clubs in Poland were clearly distanced by 1. FC Kattowitz (Erster Fußball-Club Kattowitz), a team with a seat in Katowice and socially embedded within the German minority in the contested border region of Upper Silesia, partitioned between Poland and Germany by the divisive 1921 plebiscite. Its close title race with the eventual champions Wisła Kraków in 1927 season was framed by some newspapers as a Polish-German contest for sporting supremacy, thus illustrating how sport can become a field of minority-majority tensions and reflection of broader bilateral hostilities.

Dynamics concerning minority identities in their ethnic and linguistic dimensions are clearly present in contemporary sport contexts as well. The authors have provided recently a comprehensive overview of that, through the prism of minority football clubs functioning in kin-state and non-kin-state situations. To give just a handful of further examples, one can mention May 2024 games of the unofficial national teams of Corsica, Catalonia and Galicia. The Squadra Corsa, consisting of several players from the island’s iconic clubs SC Bastia and AC Ajaccio, have won the Corsica Cup after defeating Sardinia and Saint Martin. The Catalans and Galicians, on the other hand, were able to face a fully recognized FIFA and CONCACAF member Panama. It can be argued that especially a relatively high attendance at Galicia’s game suggests a high social prestige and popularity of such events, which is further confirmed by the fact that both matches were broadcast by regional minority language television channels TV3 and TVG. Furthermore, this can be interpreted as the expression of a given community’s need for international visibility and recognition, similarly to the English-language banner “Accept Corsica in UEFA” held by the Squadra Corsa players after the Corsica Cup final. The linguistic aspect was also prominently visible in the celebrations of Athletic Bilbao’s April triumph in Copa del Rey. When speaking to fans gathered in front of Bilbao’s town hall, the club’s forward Asier Villalibre used this opportunity to address them in Basque, with his message focused on encouraging the use of Euskera in everyday life and teaching of the language.

Other sport arenas are witness to initiatives focused upon minority identities as well. This is, for instance, the case of rugby union in France, where the Top 14 club USA Perpignan and its fans highlight their Catalan cultural and linguistic profile. In the realm of rugby league, the example of AS Carcassonne can be mentioned, as the club actively supports the Occitan language through cooperation with Calandreta schools or the use of it by the club’s stadium announcer.

Sport and minorities in the Danish-German border region

From the perspective of minorities-related aspects the Danish-German border region can hardly be considered an accidental host for this year’s Europeada. The focus of a prolonged, including military, rivalry between Denmark and Germany, it has become the arena of two post-World War I self-determination plebiscites resulting in the demarcation of the present state border. Current peaceful coexistence between minorities and majorities in the area, comprehensive protection of the rights of four autochthonous minorities living in the region, as well as friendly bilateral relations make it a credible host for any major minority-related event. In the context of Europeada this is further supported by a quite strong sporting pedigree.  

More generally, the region is not short of successful sport organisations such as handball club SG Flensburg-Handewitt (in 2024 it has won the EHF European League), Vojens-based SønderjyskE Ishockey (the current ice hockey league and cup winner in Denmark) or Haderslev’s Sønderjyske Fodbold (several weeks ago the club has won promotion to the Danish football top flight). These clubs, however, although popular among the regional minority communities (this claim is supported by a strong focus on them in the sport sections of Flensborg Avis and Der Nordschleswiger, i.e. minority language newspapers published in the region), are not anchored within these communities’ organisational structures.

Minorities, nevertheless, do have a robust sporting life of their own, clearly linked to their cultural and linguistic identities. Football is a popular, however, far from unique sport activity. For example, in the context of Danish minority in Schleswig-Holstein, the teams of IF Slesvig and IF Stjernen currently compete in the sixth tier of the German football league system, whereas a respective section in Dansk Gymnastikforening Flensborg plays one level below. Das Team Nordschleswig – Æ Mannschaft, on the other hand, is a label under which fistball, football, and handball teams of the German minority perform, with fistball players also competing in international tournaments as Denmark’s national team. Importantly, the use of letter “æ” in the name is a reference not to Danish language but rather to the regional South Jutlandic dialect in which it is also used. Both Danish minority in Germany and German minority in Denmark have strong and longstanding rowing tradition, with clubs located among others in Flensburg/Flensburg (established in 1935) and Aabenraa/Apenrade (established in 1926). Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, the Danish minority in Germany is also actively involved in cricket. Husum Cricket Club, established in 1967, is very much embedded in the community (Hauke Müller, one of its leading players, recently estimated that 90% of the squad went to the Danish minority schools), with equally strong links to the kin-state, as it is a member of the Dansk Cricket-Forbund and currently competes at the second level of the Danish league system. Finally, one of the strong identity features of the Frisian minority is Boßeln (road bowling). In Schleswig-Holstein it is organised in Verband Schleswig-Holsteinischer Boßler e. V., which was responsible for the hosting of the European Championships in May 2022.    

Europeada and its modalities

First organised in 2008 in Switzerland, during the same summer as Euro 2008 was co-hosted between Austria and Switzerland, the intention very much was to coincide with the broader UEFA context and salience. Indeed, the organisers recognise that “football is a world language that everyone understands” and suggest that Europeada is a way to connect minorities, highlight minorities and strengthen minority regions. Hence, the tournament moves location each four years, held in Lusatia, Germany in 2012, South Tyrol, Italy in 2016 and the area of the Slovenian minority in Austria in 2022. Format-wise, only non-professional or ex-professional players are allowed to participate according to Europeada Book of Rules. This differentiates the tournament significantly from an organisation such as the Confederation of Independent Football Associations (CONIFA) and its members. However, this does not exclude players from lower leagues. Whilst Europeada initially only featured men’s teams, it was expanded to a women’s tournament as well from 2016 onwards – with the number of teams registering increasing with every tournament.

Amongst the 24 men’s teams participating in the 2024 tournament, there is a diverse mix both in terms of geographic location and the characteristics of the minority. The majority are teams from kin-state minorities such as German-speaking group in Italy’s South Tyrol, Hungarians in Romania, Danish in Germany, Slovenes in Austria, but there are also quite a few non-kin-state minorities such as Roma, Occitan, Pomak, Rumantsch, Ladin. As a balance, this somewhat reflects FUEN in terms of their member organisations. However, compared to other high profile FUEN activities, for example the Minority SafePack Initiative or their links to the EU Parliamentary Intergroup on Traditional Minorities, Europeada has the space for a much broader array of minorities to be closely involved. Thus, the nature of football as a grassroots team sport also allows Europeada to be an activity less associated with the political elites of the minority organisation than other FUEN activities.

The expansion of the women’s tournament is certainly also a positive aspect for the organisation, with the Europeada social media regularly posting content for both tournaments on an equal footing. This focus also coincides with FUEN’s recent initiative Women of Minorities which has sought to discuss female-specific challenges facing minorities in an intersectional manner. With just one female member of the current eight presidium members, however, the organisation is still drastically behind with moving towards any form of gender equality within its elite structure.

FUEN – promoting and financing Europeada

In terms of how Europeada fits within FUEN’s work, it has clearly been a significant focus in the year leading up to each tournament as preparations begin well in advance. However, the salience of the 2024 event does appear to have reached a new level. A campaign titled Mute Hate Speech was launched alongside the Europeada draw event in Denmark, December 2023, aimed at raising awareness amongst majority audiences of minority issues. In addition, the organisation has managed to appoint Mads Buttgereit – a first-team coach of the men’s German national team, i.e. the host of Euro 2024 – as their official ambassador, plus it has been invited to attend high-profile events such as the 100-day countdown in Berlin. The close links to the German football authorities seem logical, given Germany is the host of Euro 2024 and the German Bundestag is one of FUEN’s major funders – including providing €250,000 of project funding towards this year’s event, as well as regional support of €150,000 from the Schleswig-Holstein state government.

More broadly, the funding of Europeada is an interesting and somewhat unclear aspect. This year’s event has also seen significant funding coming from the Danish side, through the South Schleswig  Committee (Sydslesvigudvalget) in the Danish parliament, but previous tournaments have not had such generous local/regional financing. The 2016 event received some financial support from the Hungarian Government, in a budget line stated as ‘MSPI / Europeada 2016’ at the sum of €48,513.86, against total expenses of €65,220.27. For the 2022 event, the only explicit mention of the tournament in the income sheet is for a Europeada 2022 side event funded by the German Bundestag at the sum of €81,150.19, whereas expenses show €139,366.81 spent on the event as a whole. With all of the income from the German Bundestag to FUEN linked to a specific project funding line, the remainder of the funds has to come from the ca. €139,000 of public grants or the ca. €400,000 to €500,000 received in recent years from the Bethlen Gábor Fund (hereinafter, BGF) – a Hungarian government-funded entity which has provided significant funds to FUEN since 2017 for ‘FUEN Development and European Engagement / MSPI’. Indeed, the BGF is listed as a ‘partner’ on the Europeada 2024 website and thus it could be that their funding helps to fill any financial gaps for FUEN. This role of the BGF, a relatively silent and opaque funding partner (in comparison to German government funding), comes in the context of continuing criticism within FUEN about the role of Hungary – elaborated below.

Will Europeada 2024 become a success story?

As it was mentioned above, FUEN’s intended goals behind Europeada are threefold: to connect national minorities, to highlight minorities and to strengthen minority regions. In the latter sense, the spotlight of Europeada looks set to shine on the Danish-German border area and thus creating the potential for further enhancing the region’s reputation as one of the good practice examples in the field of minority rights protection in Europe. Efficient cooperation between the local minorities, FUEN’s headquarters located in Flensburg/Flensborg and authorities at different governmental levels confirms this, whilst promising a smoothly organised event. Bringing together minorities is perhaps the tournament’s most straightforward goal to achieve. The competition is 10-days long which makes a perfect stage for in-depth interactions between players, official, supporters, media representatives etc. A network built or initiated during Europeada can be useful not only in the context of future sport events but also beyond, in relation to political, educational or lobbying initiatives. The potential for this was already visible during the aforementioned draw ceremony held at the Sønderjyske Fodbold’s Sydbank Park in December 2023 (it was attended by the authors). Highlighting minorities can be somewhat harder to achieve. If the density of media attention is used as an indicator, a quick archive search for both minority language newspapers published in the region result in a picture of a comprehensive coverage of the event. The same cannot be said about their counterparts published in Danish and German as majority languages: newspapers such as JydskeVestkysten or those published by Schleswig-Holsteinischer Zeitungsverlag newspaper group do not ignore the event, nevertheless their attention is usually turned elsewhere. Whether this will change either closer to Europeada or during the actual event is an open question.

In terms of FUEN’s work, Europeada will give it a chance to expose itself to majority communities and authorities as a trustworthy partner and competent organiser. At the same time, bringing together many of its member organisations and their grassroots members who will get to experience other minority communities from across the continent creates a chance for further internal consolidation. It remains to be seen how much UEFA engages with the tournament, but it seems hopeful for FUEN who offer a more palatable version of minority communities than CONIFA, whose members overlap more often with secessionist regions. Moreover, following their almost decade-long Minority SafePack Initiative campaign coming to a disappointing end for FUEN, Europeada 2024 seems to be providing a high-profile opportunity to focus its energy on, whilst it figures out how to move forward on the European level in the context of everchanging political landscape and important internal questions to be answered soon concerning its leadership (new president to be elected in 2025), financial structure, and position vis-à-vis national governments – with close links to Hungary considered particularly problematic by some of its member organisations.


Electronic poster at the seat of the German minority in Aabenraa/Apenrade (Denmark) highlighting the upcoming game in Europeada men’s tournament. Picture: Sergiusz Bober
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