CAS ruling puts new focus on small football nations

Gibraltar is one of the nations waiting to get closure on their application to join UEFA. Photo: Gibraltar (in red) at the Island Games 2011 by Steve Menary

26.08.2011

By Steve Menary
New ruling from CAS on Gibraltar’s application for UEFA membership could have an impact on FIFA and UEFA policy on aspiring football federations. New documents from FIFA’s Working Group on Small Nations show how potential member federations from small nations and independent territories are prioritized.

FIFA’s attempts to help places left outside the world body are set to be hit by a Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) ruling this week that has upheld Gibraltar’s controversial attempt to join the international game. Documents obtained by Play the Game show that FIFA has ranked places outside the world body in three categories – see table - with Gibraltar amongst the lowest priority but CAS has ruled that UEFA must now do everything in its power to let the British colony into the European body by the 2012 Congress in Turkey next June.

The ruling could have major repercussions at FIFA as world and European champions Spain have previously threatened to quit all international football if Gibraltar is allowed to join UEFA and play internationals. UEFA change of rules
Neither CAS nor the Gibraltar Football Association (GFA) would comment but UEFA, which has 30 days to appeal the ruling, told Play the Game:

“UEFA has received the CAS decision on the Gibraltar case and while reviewing it, took note that it does not grant immediate membership. UEFA is now studying its implications and possible next steps.”

The GFA applied to join UEFA in 1999 but shortly after, the European body changed its membership criteria so that all new members had to be recognized as countries by the United Nations.

This move was not made retrospective, allowing the four British Home Nations and the Faroe Islands to retain membership, and used to reject Gibraltar and bar subsequent new applicants such as Greenland and Kosovo.

Because the change was made after their application, the GFA went to CAS in 2006 and secured a ruling upholding their application but when Gibraltar’s potential membership went to a UEFA vote, the influential Spanish FIFA executive committee member Angel Maria Vilar Llona urged members to reject the colony. Of UEFA’s then 52 members, only England, Scotland and Wales supported Gibraltar.

FIFA’s list of priority
Now European football is likely to face yet another contentious vote supporting a place that FIFA’s own small nations working group believes merits the least attention and describes as ‘politically sensitive’ in the committee notes.

The group, which was chaired by former English FA President Geoff Thompson and led by Urs Kluser, met three times before outlining its aims and objectives at a world body meeting last October, which PTG has secured the notes for.

Kluser went on three missions to try and understand the problems faced by places left outside FIFA and visited the Pacific state of Tuvalu, the Dutch Caribbean territory of Sint Maarten and the British dependency of Jersey.

In addition to ranking places in order of priority from independent nations to politically sensitive cases, the notes, which FIFA has confirmed, read:

  • The priority should go to the first category, while assistance for the non-independent territories (second category) could be considered only if channelled through their parent Member Association and/or confederation. FIFA must make sure that this would not mean a decrease in the assistance already provided by the MA and confederation

  • To stress clearly that any assistance provided by FIFA does not mean political recognition of the applicant and should not be considered as a first step towards becoming a FIFA member

  • Assistance should not include FAP or Goal projects


The latter is controversial as Greenland and French Guiana – a CONCACAF associate but not recognised by FIFA – have both received funding for Goal projects through the Danish and French federations respectively.

Working group on hold
FIFA president Sepp Blatter did visit Greenland last October but Kluser left the world body last year and with Thompson stepping down earlier this year, the activities of the working group have – according to insiders – ground to a halt.

At the 2010 meeting Costakis Koutsokoumnis, President of the Cyprus FA, which opposes attempts by the largely unrecognised Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus to play internationals, insisted that a “mechanism” be found to define politically sensitive cases. The notes show Thompson replying that this would be “decided on a case-by-case basis with the option of calling upon experts for help.”

As a result, the group’s next meeting scheduled for March 1 2011 did not take place and there is little evidence of FIFA, which had been engulfed by corruption problems for most of this year, making any attempt to engage with any of the identified as potential members.

No news from FIFA
Sources in Sint Maarten told Play the Game there had been no contact with FIFA since Kluser’s visit in 2010 and described the state of football on the Caribbean island as a “mess.” Recent visitors to Palau – another country cited by FIFA as needing help and eligible to join – reported no evidence of organised football activity at all and a member of the Monegasque Football Federation told Play the Game: “Concerning FIFA, we do not have any contact with them.”

Tuvalu will play in the football tournament at this month’s South Pacific Games in New Caledonia, along with Kiribati, which had applied to join FIFA. This application was discussed at last year’s meeting and a decision made to visit the Pacific islands.

That did not happen and the Kiribati FA had to visit FIFA’s Zurich HQ on June 17 to start a dialogue, which is now finally expected to involve an official visit to the islands next month.

The leisurely pace of the FIFA group, which some aspiring members had hoped would organise some form of competition, is also evident in another application from the Zanzibar FA, whose application was sent to Switzerland on August 27 2010. This was discussed and rejected on October 27 2010 but the Zanzibar FA only found out last week about the latest rejection, which follows another snub from FIFA in 2005.

“This [latest] request was examined by the Associations Committee in March 2011 and by the FIFA Executive Committee meeting,” says FIFA in response. “As Zanzibar does not fulfil the basic condition of being a country recognized by the international community they were informed on 21 June 2011 that their request had been rejected accordingly.”

FIFA has allowed the Football Federation of Kosovo (FFK) to join its transfer matching system to stop clubs in the former Yugoslav republic losing players without compensation, but will not accept the FFK as a member until Kosovo, which has been recognised by 81 countries across the world, is allowed into the UN.

This is unlikely for as long as Serbia’s ally Russia sits on the UN Security Council and an appeal earlier this year by the FFK to allow Kosovo to play international friendlies was rejected by FIFA.

“Why should they care about a small country like Kosovo when there is nothing in it for them,” says former Kosovo manager Edmond Rugova.

Relying on national associations
With little sign of help from FIFA, some places left isolated from the world game are increasingly relying on national associations at their mother country.

The Dutch FA trains coaches from its colonies and in 2008, the Fédération Française de Football staged the first Coupe de l’Outre Mer for French territories and overseas departments. Now a bi-annual tournament costing €900,000 to stage, this is the only competition open outside of their region to the likes of Guadeloupe, Martinique and Reunion, which were all named in FIFA’s second tier of applicants.

The tournament is also open to those French dependents that have managed to join FIFA, such as Tahiti, a member since 1990, and New Caledonia, which was allowed to join in 2004 on the grounds that a vote for independence is scheduled for between 2014 and 2019.

In 2005, FIFA provided U$D 400,000 from its Goal scheme towards a U$D 907,000 artificial turf in the New Caledonian capital of Noumea and three years later covered the entire U$D 400,000 cost of extending a technical centre, again in Noumea. In Tahiti, FIFA also funded the whole cost of a U$D 400,000 technical centre at Pirae in Tahiti from Goal funds but many unaffiliated places outside the world body are increasingly left in limbo with no support.

“A lot of smaller nations fall into this Catch 22 situation - FIFA want to see so much before they give any help but there's no way to get to that point unless you already have some funding or people willing to work hard for free for a long time, which most places don't,” says Paul Watson, an Englishman who travelled to Pohnpei in Micronesia and organised a football league – an experience he chronicles in a book due out next year called Up Pohnpei (Profile 2011).

New Caledonia’s entry was cited by the Zanzibar FA in its latest application to join FIFA and has also been brought up by Guadeloupe.

Alain Soreze at the Ligue Guadeloupéenne de Football says: “We look (sic) the example of New Caledonia. But response [from the FFF] is Guadeloupe do not have the same political and administration statute like New Caledonia.”

For those British dependents aspiring to FIFA membership, there is only the football at the bi-annual Island Games football championship but Gibraltar, Jersey, the Isle of Man and Guernsey are hoping to stage a tournament next June, when the Mediterranean side could well have something off the pitch to celebrate too.

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