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Oct 2, 2012

Spain to fight Gibraltar FA bid

The Spanish footballing and political authorities appear set to fight Gibraltar's bid to become a fully recognised member of the international footballing community.

The Gibraltar FA (GFA) was admitted as a provisional member of UEFA at a meeting of the association's Executive Committee in St Petersburg on Monday.

Speaking soon after that meeting, the Spanish sports minister Miguel Cardenal said the news was not unexpected and stressed that the decision was not final.

"We have expected this for a while," Cardenal said. "The dispute between Gibraltar and UEFA began some years ago. Gibraltar was already admitted in 2007, and the matter is being worked on."

A decision on the admission of the Gibraltar as a full member will now be taken at the Congress in London in the week before May's Champions League final at Wembley.

The GFA achieved similar provisional status within UEFA in 2006, but was denied full membership by a vote of the Congress in Dusseldorf the following January. That decision triggered an appeal to the international court of arbitration for sport (CAS), which led to the matter being considered again.

The Spanish government and the Spanish FA (RFEF) are not keen on Gibraltar being allowed to take part in international competitions because that could lead to similar moves for footballing independence within Catalonia and the Basque Country, which both already have their own unrecognised national selections.

The matter has been further complicated by increased calls within Catalonia for full independence during the current economic crisis.

Spanish government sources told the Madrid news agency EFE that they would continue to fight the recognition of Gibraltar as an independent football state "with all legal means possible".

The RFEF president Jose Maria Villar, a close ally of the UEFA president Michel Platini, has previously spoken out against the GFA's official recognition. Catalan daily Mundo Deportivo reported on Monday that the FIFA president Sepp Blatter was also against the idea.

Gibraltar's government has released a statement welcoming the UEFA decision to grant provisional membership to the GFA.

"Football and all sport should never be allowed to mix with politics," the statement said. "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 and in good time for the meeting which will be called upon to ratify membership in May.

"The GFA will no doubt enjoy the support of the whole of Gibraltar in pursuing full and permanent membership of UEFA. Gibraltar's footballers are ready to excel in international competition and to become the 54th member of UEFA and it is hoped that no further obstacles will be put in their way."

"In this respect, 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. 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."

Gibraltar has approximately 30,000 inhabitants and 20 amateur-only football clubs, five of which compete in its first division championship.

The colony's representative team beat Bury 2-1 in a friendly in January and defeated the Faroe Islands 3-0 in another friendly game last March.

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