PtG Article 22.12.2006

Gibraltar fears that its UEFA application will not succeed after all

Swimmers, boxers, tri-athletes, rowers and many other athletes from Gibraltar can play their sports internationally. Football players can not. And despite a clear ruling to the contrary from the Court of Arbitration for Sport, the football federation in Gibraltar (GFA) does not expect to gain full membership of UEFA at the UEFA congress in January.

“It will be a very uphill struggle,” Joe Nunez, chairman of the GFA, told the International Herald Tribune recently.

The GFA applied for membership of UEFA in 1999 but under pressure from Spain, UEFA changed its rules so that only sovereign countries recognised by the United Nations could become members. The GFA took the matter to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) twice, and in July 2006 CAS ruled that GFA should be admitted into UEFA as a provisional member and the UEFA congress should consider the GFA application under the rules that applied in 1999.

The problem for the GFA can be summed up in one word: Spain. Gibraltar is a UK overseas territory but Spain still lays claim to the land. ForSpain, a decision to admit Gibraltar into UEFA is akin to a de facto recognition of Gibraltar which potentially could lead to problems with Spain’s own autonomous regions in the Basque Country and Catalonia.

”This is the best example I have ever seen of politics in sports. No one has ever raised any sporting objections to our application,” Nunez says.

GFA vice president Albert Buhagiar has told Reuters that Gibraltar mainly wants to join UEFA because it would help the federation develop football for children, train coaches and referees and gain access to development grants for the 31 registered amateur teams and around 80 junior teams.

The UEFA congress may not respect CAS ruling

The GFA now has a ruling from the Court of Arbitration of Sport that its application to join UEFA should be considered in light of the rules in force at the time of the application. But there are indications that UEFA could decide to go against that ruling even if its Executive Committee grudgingly has given Gibraltar a provisional membership.

Asked directly, UEFA’s chief executive Lars-Christer Olsson could not promise Play the Game that UEFA’s congress will respect the CAS ruling on Gibraltar.

”We will see. Opinions are very divided. Some believe that UEFA’s congress is independent of CAS,” he said.

FIFA does not accept Gibraltar

Meanwhile FIFA has also tried to meddle in the affair. At a recent meeting, the Executive Committee ruled that Gibraltar does not meet the statutory requirements to become a FIFA member.

This move angers the GFA and in a press statement it calls it ”a completely unacceptable attempt by FIFA’s Executive Committee to try and influence UEFA and its member associations against this Association’s application for membership.”

The statement points out that the statutory requirements Gibraltar should meet are those that were in place in 1997 when Gibraltar applied to FIFA for membership and FIFA decided to refer the case to UEFA.

”Under those statutes we meet all statutory requirements of FIFA,” says the GFA.

The Gibraltar Football Association will continue with its struggle to obtain full membership of UEFA as long as it is necessary for the good of the youth of Gibraltar and the development of sport in the small autonomy area, the GFA says.