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By ESPN Staff

UEFA admits Gibraltar as provisional member

NYON, Dec 8 (Reuters) - Gibraltar was admitted as a provisional member of UEFA on Friday.

The Executive Committee of European soccer's ruling body said in a statement they had 'no choice' but to allow the disputed territory provisional membership following an earlier decision by CAS, the Court of Arbitration for Sport, in July.

The statement also pointed out that FIFA, world soccer's governing body, had determined earlier this week that Gibraltar 'does not meet the statutory requirements to become a FIFA member.'

As a result of Friday's decision, Gibraltar's application for full membership is now set to be discussed at UEFA's Congress in Dusseldorf in January.

The application is rigorously opposed by Spain which claims sovereignty over the British-controlled territory.

UEFA Chief executive Lars-Christer Olsson told a media conference that the Executive Committee was not in favour of Gibraltar's full membership but that its hands were effectively tied by the CAS decision.

'Theoretically we could have said no,' Olsson said.

'But when you have a legal structure which recognises CAS as the Supreme Court in sporting matters then it would have been strange to recognise the court but not follow its decision.'

Olsson said it would now be up to UEFA's Congress to have the final say, adding that Gibraltar would be given a chance to present its case to the organisation's members.

He warned though that any decision to admit Gibraltar could have ramifications far beyond the disputed territory.

'This is part of a much bigger matter and could open up all sorts of political issues such as the Basque or Catalan questions in Spain or the statutes of the individual states in Germany.

'Politically speaking it is a sensitive issue which is why UEFA wanted to follow FIFA's direction in only allowing members from fully-recognised countries.'

UEFA changed its rules accordingly in 2001 but the ruling from CAS noted that Gibraltar's original application had been made two years earlier.

The court stopped short of ordering automatic full membership for the territory but said that the Congress should make its final decision 'on the basis of the rules applicable at the time of the initial request - and excluding the application of the rules introduced subsequently.'