PtG Article 08.09.2006

Gibraltar to become member of UEFA despite Spanish resistance

Gibraltar – the tiny British overseas territory below Spain – should be given the opportunity to become a member of UEFA, the European football governing body. So rules the International Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in the face of many years resistance from Spain that has tried to block the application for a long time.

The population of Gibraltar is approximately 28,000 and the number of football clubs in the first division is five. But now the national football team is on the brink of being able to take part in European championships after the ruling from CAS.

According to a statement from the Gibraltar Football Association (GFA), CAS ruled that UEFA should admit Gibraltar as a provisional member at its next executive meeting and then the next UEFA congress should consider a full membership for the small football association.

Application has been pending since 1999

Gibraltar has had an application for membership of UEFA pending since 1999 but failed at its previous attempt to join because UEFA adopted a new rule which meant that only countries recognised by the United Nations as independent states could become members.

This happened after pressure from Spain which still claims sovereignty over Gibraltar after it was ceded to Britain under the 1713 Treaty of Utrecht. It refuses to recognise Gibraltar and there is an edict from the Consejo Superior de Deportes to all sports federations in Spain that they should block any membership application from organisations in Gibraltar.

“Therefore it is our policy to encourage local sporting organisations to join their respective international bodies. This is important for the development of sport and to put Gibraltar on the map,” says Steven Linares who is a spokesperson for the main opposition party in Gibraltar.

Spanish football working on “solution”

UEFA seems resigned to the fact that Gibraltar will become a member. The Spanish sports newspaper, El Mundo Deportivo met UEFA president Lennart Johnsson in Monaco for a Champion’s League draw and he confirmed that by January 2007, Gibraltar will be a new member of UEFA.

He was, however, concerned about the political implications of CAS’s ruling as the previous Spanish government threatened to withdraw all its clubs and national teams from UEFA if Gibraltar is admitted.

”It is a matter that goes beyond sports and becomes political. Personally, I believe that at this time it is more an issue for the Spanish government than for the Spanish Football Federation.”

It is not known how the current government will react to the ruling from CAS but according to the website (broken link), the Spanish Minister for Sport Jaime Lissavetsky has discussed the CAS ruling with the Spanish Foreign Office which already has its own policies not to allow Spanish athletes to compete against Gilbraltar at international level.

Angel Villar, president of the Spanish Football Association, told El Mundo Sportivo that “we are working on a solution.”

And it is in the interest of the Spanish Football Association to find a solution. As Joe Nunez, the president of Gibraltar Football Association told GBC News, Spanish professional teams rely too heavily on money from UEFA tournaments to seriously consider pulling out of UEFA.

“That is just scare mongering,” the GFA president said.

UEFA’s Executive Committee will discuss the ruling from CAS ruling and Gibraltar’s provisional membership at its meeting in the beginning of October.