Tag Archives: football

Gibraltar, UEFA’s Team #54

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Damiano Benzoni

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.

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Step’anakert is well worth a match

The Step’anakert Stadium – Photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/blackwych/

Damiano Benzoni

The two teams enter the field, their flags ahead of them. On the right the home teams’ red, blue and orange tricolour with a white zig-zag chevron, on the left the seven alternate green and white stripes with a red canton depicting a white hand and seven stars, the flag of the guests. Then, the teams align themselves for the national anthems. The green jerseys of Abkhazia sing Aiaaira, “Victory”, while the red jerseys of the hosts Nagorno-Karabakh sing Azat ow ankax Arc’ax, “Free and Independent Arc’ax (or Artsakh)”, referring to the ancient name of their nation when – between 189 b.C. and 387 A.D. – it used to be a province of the Kingdom of Armenia. On the terrace, some supporters hold a banner: UEFA, we also want to play football. The two squads are the national teams of two de facto independent unrecognised countries. Two countries fighting to have their sovereignty recognised by the international community. Abkhazia and Nagorno-Karabakh mutually recognise each other and have such agreement with two other post-Soviet breakaway republics, South Ossetia and Transnistria. While Abkhazia is also recognised by Russia, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Nauru, Tuvalu and Vanuatu, Nagorno-Karakakh isn’t recognised by any UN member. Continue reading

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Gibraltar, a colony in UEFA

Damiano Benzoni

“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. Continue reading

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Kosovo, sovereignty and football

Foto: Toto Marti

Damiano Benzoni

Lucerne. The Swissporarena is filled with Albanian and Kosovar supporters, two times as much as the home team supporters, for the World Cup qualifier between Switzerland and Albania. Three players, the white cross of Switzerland on their chests, remain silent during the confederate anthem. One of them, Xherdan Shaqiri, has three flags embroidered on his shoes: Switzerland, Albania and Kosovo. Shaqiri himself will uneven the score in the 23rd minute of the game, won by the Swiss 2-0 and recounted on the New York Times by James Montague. Shaqiri and his two team-mates, Granit Xhaka and Valon Behrami, are among the 300 thousand Kosovar Albanians (a sixth of the population of the balcanic nation nowadays) who sought refuge in Switzerland during the nineties. For them, Switzerland – Albania is a particular match, played the day after their country reached full sovereignity. Moreover, the match was played as Kosovo waited for a crucial decision on behalf of the FIFA Executive Committee. Continue reading

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Fistfights, kicks and the Ukrainian elections

Damiano Benzoni

From Euro 2012 to the elections: the big event for Ukraine, after the Spaniards won their Kiev final against Italy, has become the parliamentary elections scheduled for October 28th. It will be a crucial election for the Verchovna Rada, the Ukrainian parliament, and it will be played between the danger for electoral fraud and the tug of war played by the West and Russia on the former Soviet republic. According to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, at a conference in Jalta last week both parts put Ukraine back up against the wall. On one hand, the EU and the US are asking for a clear acceleration of the stagnating democratic progress of the country and for a solution to the situation of former prime minister Julija Tymošenko, whose imprisonment is seen as a move masterminded by president Viktor Janukovyč to sideline a dangerous political opponent. On the other hand Moscow, leveraging on the high energy costs Ukraine has to face, is trying to force Kiev into joining the Eurasiatic Union. Continue reading

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Egypt behind closed doors

Damiano Benzoni

In the 79th minute Mohamed Aboutreika unevened the score: he rose up between two Zamalek defenders and headed the cross of his team-mate Abdallah el-Said, sending it behind the shoulders of the goalie Abdelwahed el-Sayed. Aboutreika scored the winner for al-Ahly in the Cairo derby, taking “the people’s team” on top of group B of the CAF Champions League and leaving Zamalek bottom of the pool, behind the Ghanaians of Berekum Chelsea and the Congolese of TP Mazembe. Strangely enough for one of the most heated derbies in the world, nobody was there to cheer, and Aboutreika’s goal was welcomed by a deafening silence: for the first time in a ninety-year history, the Egyptian derby was played behind closed doors, with only journalists, photographers, commentators and officials attending. Continue reading

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