KEIR RADNEDGE in LONDON: Gibraltar, finally, has won its right to play an equal role in the European – and hence ultimately world – football family.
For two decades the British territory has been blocked by the Spanish federation at the orders of its own government which has always objected to the status of ‘The Rock’ and feared recognition would only encourage independence movements in Catalonia and Vizcaya.
The GFA eventually appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport which ruled that, under the terms of UEFA statutes when Gibraltar applied in 1999, it had no right to deny membership.
That formal background was set out by veteran UEFA vice-president Senes Erzik who told delegates that, under the statutes pertaining back then, CAS had ruled that the GFA was entitled to full membership of UEFA.
This decision was not a precedent for any other territories and thus, Erzik added: “Both UEFA and the GFA have faithfully followed the road map leading up to this vote. Based on this we ask the UEFA Congress to vote on the membership application made by the GFA.”
Relieved thanks were expressed by Gareth Latin, president of the GFA.
He told congress: “It has been a long journey but football and all our love for the sport has prevailed. This is a momentous occasion for football on Gibraltar. We can now begin the next chapter of Gibraltar football, offering our football community the best possible future and development means.”
Later UEFA president Michel Platini said that, out of respect for the diplomatic sensitivities, Gibraltar and Spain would not be matched up in the same groups in international competition at any level.
“Gibraltar will not play in qualifying stage against Spain,” he said. “For different reasons we also have same set up for Armenia and Azerbaijan which we do not put in the same group. We already had that with them once and they didn’t go ahead with the match so we decided it’s better to try to pre-empt such a situation than have to deal with the consequences afterwards.”