“The Gibraltar FA is pleased to announce that it has today been granted provisional membership of UEFA at a meeting of the European football governing body’s Executive Committee in St.Petersburg, Russia. The vote on the Gibraltar FA’s full membership of UEFA will take place on the 24th May 2013 during the XXXVII Congress to be held in London, England”. Alea iacta est: this is how the Gibraltar FA announced – through a press release – the reaching of one of its goals, the status of provisional UEFA member. The territory which, facing the Moroccan coast, controls the choke point governing access to the Mediterranean Sea still preserves the status of British colony, since the Royal Navy conquered it in 1704. The status was confirmed through two referendums in 1967 and 2002. Since 2006 the colony enjoys home rule and refers defence and foreign affairs matters to the United Kingdom, but already in 1997 the GFA, which was founded in 1895 as an FA affiliate, asked admission to FIFA.
As we already told some months ago, FIFA initially expressed a favourable stance, declaring the GFA conformed to the statutory requirements and forwarding the admission request to UEFA. Progress came to a halt in 2004, when the FIFA statute review froze all applications and set new rules of eligibility, such as the recognition by the international community. Last march a new door opened for Gibraltar’s footballers, as the UEFA approved a road map including the provision of specialist equipment, assistance on governance and the development of grassroots football. The decision to give provisional membership to Gibraltar follows a sentence of the Court of Arbitration for Sports of August 2011.
It remains to be seen what Spain’s political reaction will be. Gibraltar, in fact, is part of a list of FIFA Potential New Members which includes 20 territories, categorised in three groups of priority. The first group includes six independent states unaffiliated to FIFA (Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Monaco, Palau and Tuvalu), the second group includes nine non-independent territories (Guadeloupe, Greenland, Isle of Man, Jersey, Martinique, Northern Mariana, Reunion, Sint Maarten and Zanzibar), while the third lists five “politically sensitive” territories: Catalonia, Kosovo, North Ossetia, the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus and Gibraltar. The biggest obstacle to Gibraltar’s recognition has always been Spain and its threats, as Madrid claims Gibraltar as Spanish territory.
According to the GFA Spain has sabotaged Gibraltar’s application by raising political – and not sporting – reasons and by threatening to retire their teams from UEFA competitions in case the colony was admitted. After the 2007 rebuttal the GFA took briefly into consideration the idea of applying to the African confederation in order to obtain FIFA recognition. Up to the fifties, the national team of Gibraltar regularly played friendly matches against Spanish clubs, even getting to stop Molowny, Muñoz and Pahiño’s Real Madrid to a 2-2 draw on October 25th, 1949. Halftime through the fifties the Franco government decreed Spanish teams needed a government permit to play in Gibraltar, and border guards were instructed to block players without such permit. No permits were ever issued. Even now, Spain immediately replied, as the Guardian reports: the ministry of Sports, Education and Culture of the Rajoy government, José Ignacio Wert, declared that Spain will “exhaust all legal means” to prevent Gibraltar becoming a full UEFA member.