Chagos Islands FA Represent their Deprived Home Country
By: Richard Huang
Cedric Joseph, the goalkeeper of Chagos Islands national football team, calls England his home but has a pride of representing his ancestral country by playing football. Oftentimes, he wears his team jersey when it is not match time.
“Even when I'm not going to training I wear the shirt. I'm proud,” he says. “People then ask me questions. Some people don't know anything about the place. I know the history so I can tell them — I tell them it's an island paradise, heaven on earth.”
However, at the age of 19, he had never stepped foot on the country he represented. Born and grew on Mauritius, he never stopped asking his grandmother about the history of Chagos Island, but oftentimes, she would avoid his inquiry.
Joseph’s grandmother was born in Chagos Island, but in the late 1960s and early 1970s, she and other indigenous Chagossians were expelled by the UK in order to reserve the island for a military airbase. Many of the Chagossians were sent to Mauritius, an island located at the east of Madagascar. However, his grandmother did not forget her home country and the suffering which she had endured during the eviction.
About 20 years ago, the first Chagos Islands football team was founded in Crawley, England, where about 3,000 Chagossians settled after the UK's eviction. Unable to join FIFA, they joined the NF-Board, an umbrella association for states, minorities, stateless peoples and regions.
Progressively in 2013, the Chagos Football Association was formed by Sabrina Jean, who was also raised in Mauritius. Similar to Joseph’s grandmother, her father avoided discussing his childhood in Chagos Island.
“They'd try to avoid explaining because they were traumatized,” says Joseph, who moved to the UK in 2016. “I would see it with my grandmother. When she was telling me tears were coming down her face. I just wanted to know what happened.”
Fortunately, she got a chance to set her foot on Chagos Island during a trip organized by the UK.
“When I first put my feet on the island, even though you weren't born there, you can feel it,” she says. “You feel the sadness in you.”
“When I was on Peros Banhos, where my dad was born, it was heartbreaking when you saw all the buildings. Your godmother says: ‘When you get to my island you will see the church where I was baptized, where I did holy communion… but it's very painful because there's nothing left.’”
However, the Chagos Island football team did not make some serious improvements before 2019. They had lost all of their matches in the 2016 Cofia World Cup, but they accomplished something else no matter what the result was.
“When we went to Abkhazia a lot of people didn't know about us as Chagossians and they found out about us,” says Ivanov Leonce, who plays- full-back in the team. “We want to show what we've been through, what our families went through, where we're from. One of the ways we have to show our identity is through football. The people there, the way people treated us, it was like an actual World Cup but from unrecognized countries. That was my best memory.”