After Kosovo, will it be Gibraltar for FIFA?

At a recent FIFA Congress in Budapest, Sepp Blatter pushed through his executive permission, much to the chagrin of Serbia and their close political ally Russia, for Kosovo to start playing friendlies against FIFA teams.

Kosovo is a region that seceded from Serbia, after years of warfare and ethnic tensions and declared its independence in 2008. It is officially recognised by more than 90 nations worldwide, including nearly all of the members of the European Union. However, Serbia does not recognise Kosovo, and crucially, neither does Russia. This is a problem, because Russiaís position on the UN Security Council makes it almost impossible at present for Kosovo to become a member of the UN.

Accordoing to a report in Foot and Ball.net,FIFA have invited a furious Serbian federation and the Kosovar federation to a meeting in Zurich to further discuss this decision; but Blatter insists that it is only the practicalities which now need to be worked out, such as can they play home games in Kosovo or have to play them somewhere else, rather than the issue of Kosovo being allowed to play or not.

This is an interesting story in itself; but what is really interesting is what this decision could potentially mean to some of the other nations who are trying to get into international football.

One of those nations is Gibraltar, who have been battling for years for the right to play international football.

The issue of whether or not Gibraltar should be given back to Spain, or not, is for others to decide, but UEFA are going to be forced into a decision as to whether or not to accept their football team very soon, says the report.

It adds: There is a long history of football in Gibraltar. Gibraltar has one of the ten oldest football associations in the world, the GFA was founded in 1895, and has had a league since 1907.

After seeing that other small nations such as San Marino, Andorra and Liechtenstein were accepted into UEFA, Gibraltar decided to apply, first applying to FIFA in 1997. FIFA decided Gibraltar met all of the conditions in their statutes regarding new members, and passed their file onto UEFA. Gibraltar formally applied to UEFA in 1999, and UEFAís executive committee recommended Gibraltar be admitted into UEFA.

News of Gibraltarís efforts for UEFA admission went down like a lead balloon in Spain. RFEF, the Spanish FA, furiously protested, and the UEFA Executive Committee indefinitely postponed a decision on Gibraltarís application, despite having been told by an independent legal panel who ruled on Gibraltarís application and Spainís objections to that application, that Spain didnít have any legitimate grounds for protest and that ďGibraltar was entitled to provisional admission as a member of UEFAĒ.

Spainís objections are purely political; there is no reason, on a sporting level, why Gibraltar should not be admitted into UEFA, as UEFA statues clearly states that its members cannot discriminate on political grounds. Spain are reluctant to allow Gibraltar to show any sign of independence for fear that it would weaken their claims on the colony, and that it may give Catalonia and the Basque Country added incentive to try and apply to become full international teams themselves, which would severely weaken the Spanish team.

While this manoeuvring was going on, UEFA passed a rule in 2002 requiring future members to be members of the UN, with a grandfather clause allowing existing non-UN members such as England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the Faroe Islands to continue competing. This left Gibraltar, a non-sovereign nation not in the UN, seemingly excluded permanently.

Gibraltar took their case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), who ruled in their favour, stating that as Gibraltar had applied before the rules regarding membership to the UN as a requirement for UEFA membership came into effect, those rules didnít apply to Gibraltar, and a decision on their membership had to be taken quickly.

UEFAís ExCo then refused Gibraltarís admission on the grounds that they didnít qualify for FIFA, prompting another trip to CAS in 2006, which again ruled in Gibraltarís favour, and ordered UEFA to give them provisional membership, with a vote on full membership to shortly follow, at their next meeting. UEFA breached this order several times, delaying a vote on Gibraltarís membership time and again.

Gibraltar was eventually given associate member status along with Montenegro in late 2006, and a vote was taken in 2007 as to their application for full membership. RFEF again intervened and threatened to withdraw all of its teams from all UEFA competitions should Gibraltar be admitted. Even though the threat was a hollow one; there was no way that Spain would have withdrawn its teams from the European Championships over a team that has played less than 40 internationals, and there was equally no way that Barcelona, Real Madrid and the other Spanish teams would have stood for not being allowed to play in the Champions League, the UEFA members didnít call Spainís bluff, and while Montenegro were unanimously accepted by the other UEFA members, Gibraltar lost a vote 45 to 3, with only England, Scotland and Wales voting in their favour, and were once again left in limbo.

Once again, Gibraltar went to CAS, and once again, they won. UEFA were ordered to do everything in their power to admit Gibraltar into UEFA by their congress in 2012. Gibraltar still arenít in, but UEFA did give Gibraltar a Ďroadmapí which should lead them into full UEFA member status, including things like setting up courses to train Gibraltarian referees to the UEFA standard, improved coaching courses and help with governance of football in Gibraltar. This should mean that come next year, when UEFA has its congress in London, there should be no reason, except for more Spanish posturing, why Gibraltar should not be admitted, and possibly take part in the qualifying process for EURO 2016.

One possible way forward for Gibraltar would be to join CAF, the African Federation, where Spainís objections would count for nothing. Gibraltar is quite close to mainland Africa, so that might be a real possibility. RFEF has also floated the possibility of Gibraltar having a team in their league system, similar to Monaco having a place in Franceís league system. This was rejected on the grounds that Gibraltar wants to become a full international team, says Foot and Ball.net.




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