Connecting the Tamil Diaspora Through Sports: The Tamil Eelam Football Association’s Story and Its Global Impact
Exploring the intersection between representing the Tamil diaspora through sports internationally and the multifaceted layers of Tamil identity.
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The Tamil diaspora has a vast global presence, with Tamils residing in multiple continents. However, they face a common challenge: navigating a space where they lack a native country to call their own, primarily due to injustices in Sri Lanka, while simultaneously existing as first or second-generation immigrants in their residing country as a minority group. "Tamil Eelam is a proposed independent state that many Tamils in Sri Lanka and the Eelam Tamil diaspora aspire to create in the north and east of Sri Lanka.”

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The Tamil diaspora finds avenues to connect internationally through cultural interests and passions like music, dance, and sports. A prime example is the Tamil Eelam Football Association (TEFA), which established Tamil Eelam’s National Football Team on a global platform among the international football community. TEFA is a Confederation of Independent Football Associations (CONIFA) member. CONIFA, is the football federation for all associations outside FIFA and is a global acting non-profit organization that supports representatives of international football teams from nations, de-facto nations, regions, minority peoples and sports isolated territories.

I interviewed vice-captain Nirun Sivananthan on behalf of the TE National Team to explore the nuanced intersection between representing the Tamil diaspora through sports on an international stage and the multifaceted layers of Tamil identity.

Nirun S., a University of Toronto alumnus, completed a double major in pharmacology and neuroscience and a Master's degree in pharmacology. During his undergrad, he played varsity soccer and continued to excel with the Varsity Blues. He identifies, manages, and trades in real estate investments for a network of investors through his full-service business, MLTPLY Real Estate. He also pursues soccer semi-professionally with Alliance United in League1 Ontario and internationally with the Tamil Eelam National Team.

TEFA was initially established in 2003 in Sri Lanka by the Sports Council of Tamil Eelam. TEFA's Men's Team Manager, Kishanth I., noted, “Due to the war and other circumstances, the team was quickly dissolved.” In 2012, various Tamil diaspora youth groups from the UK, Canada, and Switzerland re-established the association and eventually, TEFA became a representative member of the Confederation of Independent Football Associations (CONIFA). 

TEFA's affiliation with CONIFA allows them to represent themselves internationally as a team, appropriately showcasing Tamil identity at a competitive level. Nirun S. shares, “TEFA’s membership with CONIFA is about giving a platform to represent Tamils worldwide.”

Today, after a decade of operation, the TE National Team comprises Tamil players from Canada, France, Denmark, Norway, Switzerland, Germany, Netherlands, England, and other nations. Nirun explains that it’s a notable accomplishment for TEFA to be operational and compete in international tournaments for a decade while being disadvantaged because its players can’t regularly convene for camps, unlike a typical national team whose players reside in their respective countries.   

The TE National Team's most significant achievement is winning the inaugural CONIFA Asia Cup in 2023, crowning them as the first Asian champions under CONIFA. This victory qualifies them and 15 other international teams for this summer's 2024 CONIFA World Cup. 

I asked Kishanth I. and Nirun S., What goals have you set for the organization's future, aside from winning the World Cup?  

Kishanth I. explains that TEFA aims to continue its growth by prioritizing youth development and providing top-level training and support to excel in professional environments. This goal also extends to transitioning TEFA from a semi-professional to a professional association, enhancing the organizational structure and ensuring professionalism across all aspects.

Nirun S. shares that representing one’s people internationally is one of sport’s greatest pleasures. However, Tamil individuals face a unique challenge - they cannot represent Tamil Eelam in professional international sports without being associated with the Sri Lankan nation.

Nirun S. recalls that in 2022, the Sri Lankan Football Association invited him and several others to join the national team for a training camp. “However, it never felt right or appropriate to represent  Sri Lanka as an Eelam Tamil, given all that transpired during our parents' generation, what they’ve gone through, and even today, still waiting for justice.” With this reflection, Nirun S. underscores the importance of TEFA’s existence. It provides Tamils with global recognition and demonstrates resilience, allowing Tamils to take pride in being represented on TV or at international competitions in the realm of sports despite not yet having an independent state.

TEFA hopes to progress the team to compete on equal footing under FIFA as Eelam Tamils hopes for an independent state with global recognition. Nirun S. notes that in the eight years he’s played, he’s seen much growth in player quality, infrastructure, administrative staff, support, and everything around the association expanding itself.

I asked, “How does TEFA navigate its status as an unrecognized state within international football?”

TEFA shares a case from 2018, during the last World Cup, when the Sri Lankan High Commission in London submitted a formal appeal to CONIFA, claiming that no legitimate national team was associated with TEFA and motioning to cease TEFA’s representation as Tamil Eelam immediately. CONIFA supported TEFA through this appeal. “CONIFA articulated that this is precisely why we exist today—to allow underrepresented nations to represent themselves globally. That's their mission statement; we fit directly into it, similar to other nations. There are various member nations within CONIFA, each with unique cultural, religious, and historical backgrounds, all seeking representation internationally through football.”

I asked, “How does TEFA engage with supporters and the broader Tamil community outside the soccer community?”

Nirun S. expresses that football is the sport most watched and played worldwide. Events like the World Cup unite billions worldwide who share a passion for the game. “TEFA provides a platform for people to support and feel connected to their community when we play these games and matches.”

TEFA sells jerseys, enabling individuals and fans to connect with the team while proudly representing the Tamil nation and spreading the message of unity, love, and pride in the Tamil identity. "It's a powerful means of connecting with our community."

I asked Nirun S., “What is your particular role and contribution to TEFA?”

He shares that as a player and vice-captain, he plays a significant role behind the scenes, collaborating with co-players, coaches and administrators to elevate the TE National Team into a more professional sporting environment.

“I've been contributing to the team in various aspects within my capacity, working together towards the organization's future. Through efforts like these, TEFA made significant progress in establishing itself as a more credible and recognized organization. I’d like to thank all the sponsors, donors and volunteers, as we couldn’t have grown to where we are today without them. We have a long way to go, but I'm proud of what we've achieved so far and excited about the future of Tamil Eelam football.”

I asked, “What are your values and connection to the Tamil Culture?”

Nirun S. states football/soccer is integral to his connection to Tamil culture. “Representing Tamils globally through football has been a meaningful experience. It's fascinating to see individuals like myself, who may appear ethnically the same but culturally different (having grown up in Europe, for example), embrace their Tamil heritage through language, culture, and sports. Furthermore, some players proudly represent their Tamil identities on the football field despite coming from diverse cultural backgrounds. This inclusivity within the Tamil football community is heartening, allowing individuals to explore and celebrate their Tamil heritage regardless of their appearance or background .”

I asked, “Do you think football/soccer, specifically TEFA, provides people the opportunity to stay connected within the Tamil diaspora?” 

Nirun S. expresses that TEFA is pivotal in keeping the Tamil diaspora connected. He shares that the association comprises members from different countries worldwide, and each member speaks a different national language. However, the team converses in Tamil because they all share a common language. “This necessity to communicate in Tamil, even if it's broken for some, strengthens our bond as it unites us and brings us together in the first place.”

I asked Nirun S., “What are some specific challenges that you, as a player or affiliated with the organization, have faced, and how did you overcome them?”

He shares that a significant challenge the organization encounters is the financial infrastructure. TEFA needs to manage a team with players spread across the globe. Due to inadequate resources, organizing training camps, qualification games, and participating in major tournaments like the Asia Cup or the World Cup is challenging. “However, despite the financial burden, the value we derive from these endeavours far outweighs the costs.”

Nirun S. specifies that TEFA's challenges extend beyond financial constraints to logistical issues such as coordinating travel, lodging, meals, facilities, and equipment. “However, we've been fortunate to receive support from host nations, particularly during the early days when we lacked proper lodging facilities. Often, we would rely on the hospitality of individuals, staying at their homes or on makeshift arrangements during camps in countries like England, Switzerland, Germany, France, and Holland.”

Nirun S. emphasizes the importance of preserving Tamil culture and heritage through representation in sports like football: “By persevering through these challenges, we move closer to realizing our goals in representing Tamil football on the global stage.”

I followed up on Nirun’s response: "Given the challenges you guys have faced, it's easier to quit sometimes. With that said, what keeps you guys motivated to keep going?”

Nirun S. says, “It's about maintaining that culture, preserving identity, and all those intangible aspects that don't have a price tag but are truly priceless.” He expresses the value of kids learning and speaking Tamil and continuing to pass on the language and heritage to future generations, as educating them on the history of Tamil identity is essential.

“While it's easy to focus on the difficulties and feel tempted to give up, the underlying reasons for our efforts are strong enough to push us forward, regardless of the circumstances.”

My final question to Nirun S. was, “What’s one advice you would give to others going through a similar situation?”

“Pushing beyond your perceived limits makes all the difference in your life, and if you can change one life, you can have a big impact on this world. So, I would encourage people to commit wholeheartedly, especially to things that matter to them.”

Feel free to connect further with Nirun on Instagram or Facebook. Follow @TamilEelamFA on Instagram to track their journey in CONIFA's World Cup tournament this summer. They can also be tracked at, and their merch is available on    

Indojaa Sathiyaseelan
Toronto,  Canada
I have a versatile professional background in marketing, writing, and media. I am p...
I have a versatile professional background in marketing, writing, and media. I am p...
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