Gibraltar has moved a step closer to becoming a member of UEFA after they were admitted on Monday as a provisional member at a meeting of the European football governing body's Executive Committee in Russia.
Unsurprisingly, the Spanish were not happy and immediately declared they will contest the decision with Spanish Sports Minister Jose Ignacio Wert reportedly telling Spanish TV broadcaster Telemadrid
: “We have already said we will exhaust all legal means […] I can say that we are reasonably optimistic that this provisionality will not become a definitive acceptance
A statement issued by UEFA
read: "The committee has admitted Gibraltar as a provisional member of UEFA as from today, 1 October 2012. This follows a ruling by the court of arbitration for sport (CAS) in August 2011. A decision on the admission of the Gibraltar Football Association (GFA) as a full member of UEFA will be taken by the XXXVII Ordinary UEFA Congress in London in May 2013
". Back in March, UEFA discussed Gibraltar’s membership bid and agreed upon a financial and educational support package
for the British colony.
A statement on the Gibraltar Football Assocation’s website
reads: “The Gibraltar FA is pleased to announce that it has today been granted provisional membership of UEFA […] The Gibraltar FA thanks the UEFA Executive Committee and reiterates its steadfast commitment to working with UEFA on the ‘roadmap’ towards full membership and to building relationships with the 53 fellow member associations.
Allen Bula, Gibraltar's development officer and national head coach, was understandably delighted at the news and was eagerly awaiting the Gibraltarian team’s entry onto the world football stage. “It's a great decision, and hopefully we will be full members in May 2013,
” Mr Bula said to SkySports News
. “The Gibraltar National A team is ready for Euro 2016 qualifiers. We have been working hard to show Europe we have the quality to play at this level, and recent results since 2011 have shown this.
"I am hoping that we will be in same group as England [in the Euro 2016 qualifiers], as playing in Wembley is a dream for all of us. But it can be a nightmare result for England on the night,
" he continued
. "We also can't wait for the day we play against Spain, both at home and away!
Having fulfilled criteria to join Fifa in 1997, a request to join UEFA was met with condemnation by the Spanish Football Federation, who threatened to pull their teams out of the confederation. A subsequent rule was passed in 2001 that meant only countries recognised by the United Nations as an independent state were eligible for membership. Since this did not include Gibraltar, the Rock’s Football Association decided to take their application before the Court of Arbitration for Sport in 2003, and were ultimately successful. Gibraltar was thus awarded provisional UEFA membership in 2006 only to see their request to become full-time overwhelmingly defeated at a UEFA Congress in Dusseldorf, Germany
following political pressure applied by Spain.
Anticipating a situation of déjà vu ahead of next May’s vote in London, the Government of Gibraltar has issued a statement
condemning the Spanish rhetoric. It reads: “Football and all sport should never be allowed to mix with politics. Until now, all obstacles put in the way of the GFA's membership of UEFA have been political so it is gratifying to see that the Executive Committee of UEFA are now considering the matter on sporting grounds.
“The Government notes the less than sporting statements reportedly made by the Spanish Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Margallo, stating that Spain will do everything it can to stop Gibraltar's admission as a full member of UEFA,
” it continued
. “This suggests that Spain will once again seek to mix sport and politics; something that all other relevant nations will see through and want to avoid.
Despite its small size, Gibraltar boasts a large number of football teams, with six teams comprising its premier division, 10 in reserves, 12 in the second division, three women's teams, and 47 junior teams from under-sevens to under-16s with about 600 young players.