Gibraltar is the 54th full UEFA member. The British colony had obtained provisional member status and admittance to youth international competitions last October. Its full membership was voted today during the XXXVII Congress of the European football confederation in London. According to reports, the vote had a large majority.
Gibraltar’s quest for UEFA and FIFA membership began in 1997 and was freezed in 2004 by the renewal of the FIFA statute. The new rules of eligibility for new FAs mirrored FIFA’s programme of admitting only nations recognised by the UN – even though in the past a number of exceptions were made, notably in the cases of the Faroe Islands and of the Home Unions, who are granted separate membership by the statute itself.
Gibraltar’s main opponent in its path to membership was Spain, still claiming its right to sovereignity on the Rock. Gibraltar, conquered by the British Navy in 1704, retained its status as a colony through referenda in 1967 and 2002 and established self-government with the 2006 Constitution. Spain threatened repeatedly to withdraw its teams from UEFA competitions in case the colony was admitted, forcing the GFA to bring the case in front of the Court of Arbitration for Sport in 2007 and to consider requesting membership to the African confederation instead of the European one.
In order to avoid further tensions, Spain and Gibraltar will be kept apart in competition draws, as happens for Russia and Georgia (because of the 2008 war in Abkhazia and South Ossetia) and for Azerbaijan and Armenia (divided on the Nagorno-Karabakh issue). Now the GFA is planning a new stadium at Europa Point. A necessity, as the Rock’s only field – the Victoria Stadium – lies on the isthmus dividing Gibraltar and Spain, which is the reason of a further dispute between the two nations.