Comment: Despite being a provisional member of UEFA, Gibraltar is being denied the chance to play international friendly matches due to a farcical mix-up between the European body and FIFA.
In March, the Gibraltar Football Association (GFA) agreed a roadmap with UEFA that has seen teams from the British colony entered into European tournaments at Under-17 and Under-19 level and qualifiers for the 2014 Futsal championships.
The road map accorded Gibraltar provisional membership of UEFA and the GFA’s long standing application to join the European body will go to a vote at the European body’s congress in London in May 2013. But a planned international friendly for Gibraltar in early 2013 as part of the roadmap agreed between UEFA and the GFA has come to nothing.
When questioned why this game would not now go ahead, a UEFA spokesperson said: “International friendlies are under FIFA jurisdiction. For all these matters please contact FIFA directly as they are under their jurisdiction.”
When FIFA was contacted and asked why Gibraltar was being denied the chance to play international friendlies, a FIFA spokesman said: “Currently the issue of Gibraltar playing international matches is with UEFA. Having checked internally to make sure, FIFA until today has received no such request from Gibraltar.”
The GFA declined to comment on UEFA or FIFA’s comments, but a huge swathe of other teams on the fringes of the international game regularly play matches, often against FIFA members. Only last week Martinique and French Guiana played against FIFA members Jamaica and Cuba in the 2012 Caribbean Cup finals. Neither of the French overseas territories are members of FIFA, nor is the Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands, which is only an associate member of the Asian Football Confederation yet played FIFA member Guam in an international on November 24.
On March 11 2011, Gibraltar beat the Faroe Islands (a UEFA and FIFA member) 3-0 in a friendly on the Rock. Although Gibraltar is not expected to send a football team to the Island Games in Bermuda in 2013, should the GFA do so there is every likelihood a Rock XI would play the hosts and the Cayman Islands, both of whom are FIFA members.
Privately, the GFA must be concerned that the latest twist in an attempt to join UEFA that has been dragging on since the late 1990s is somehow connected to Kosovo’s equally controversial ambitions to play at international level.
Although 56% of FIFA’s members recognise Kosovo, the former Yugoslav Republic is not a member of the United Nations – UEFA’s membership criteria - so cannot join UEFA, whose president Michel Platini has appeased Serbia and Russian opposition to Kosovo’s international ambitions by sticking to the letter of that rule.
This Autumn, FIFA president Sepp Blatter over-ruled Platini and insisted that a Kosovan request to at least play international friendlies should be granted. Blatter’s ruling was belatedly and only partially acknowledged at the recent FIFA meeting in Tokyo, where Kosovan sides at junior, amateur and female level were given the chance to play internationally. So can clubs, but the senior national team remain barred.
For Gibraltar, the concern must be that UEFA is preparing plans for a two-speed membership simply to placate the likes of Spain, Serbia and Russia ahead of Platini’s expected bid to succeed Blatter when he retires in 2015.
There is furious Spanish opposition to Gibraltar’s membership, particularly from Ángel María Villar Llona, the influential head of the Spanish association, the RFEF. This could produce serious fractures in relations at the upper echelons at UEFA but Platini appears resigned to Gibraltar joining the European elite next May.
The GFA’s bid pre-dates a change to UEFA’s statutes that require all new members to be recognised by the UN. UEFA’s exclusion of Gibraltar has twice been upheld as unreasonable by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) and Spanish media reports claim that Platini recently told journalists:
“We're obliged to include Gibraltar because that is what the Court of Arbitration for Sport is asking us to do." "For that reason, we'll have to ask the Congress in London to accept the decision. That's why we don't deal with the cases of Kosovo or Catalunya. But Gibraltar's membership application predates 2001, so the rule does not apply. We now however, have TAS's ruling which obliges us to recommend Gibraltar's admittance and that is what we will have to do.”
With that in mind, UEFA’s apparent attempt to prevent Gibraltar from playing international friendlies looks both ridiculous and spiteful.
Steve Menary's book about football and national identity: Outcasts! The lands that FIFA forgot has just come out in a new and updated version for Kindle. Get it Outcasts! The lands that FIFA forgot on 18 December 2012. It is reprintet on playthegame.org with kind permission from the author.