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Graham Watson's article about the Gibraltars Football Association's UEFA application

Graham Watson, Monday November 17 2008 08.00 GMT
Article history

In Jules Verne's satirical novel Gil Braltar, a Spanish general incites a troop of monkeys to attack Gibraltar's British fortress. For a time, the outcome hangs in the balance, but the most awesome military power that the world had ever known does eventually triumph. On Thursday, with that story in mind, I led a team of Liberal Democrat MEPs from across the European Union in a game of football against the Gibraltar national side. I'm not suggesting that the Rock's squad is the equivalent of the British Army, any more than I'm comparing my side to man's nearest cousin – but suffice to say we lost.

Where we did score, however, was in drawing attention to the shabby treatment that has been meted out to the Gibraltar Football Association. Gibraltar's team first applied for membership of Uefa – European football's controlling body – back in the 1990s. The Faroe islands, a Danish province with a population of less than 50,000, was admitted in 1990 and have since been free to participate in European competitions. Given that precedent, it seems only fair that the Gibraltar, a British province with a population of around 30,000, should have its team granted membership too. But it hasn't.

The Court of Arbitration for Sport has twice ruled that Uefa must consider the GFA application under the rules governing membership at the time of application, that Gibraltar qualifies for membership under those rules, and that Uefa has not acted in accordance with the Court's rulings in dealing with the GFA's application. Despite this, the Uefa Congress rejected the GFA bid in January of last year. This boils down to politics.

The Spanish government is loth to see Gibraltar develop any aspect of independent identity, for fear that it will undermine Spain's long-standing and hopeless wish to rejoin the island with the mainland. They also live in fear that a Gibraltar national football team playing European matches will inspire the Basque country and Catalonia to develop their own sporting ambitions. So it's little wonder that the Spanish FA has led the shrill voices opposing Gibraltar's application and, in foot-stamping form, has even threatened to pull its team out of competitions if Gibraltar becomes a Uefa member. Spanish football has cash and clout: Gibraltar football does not. Go figure.

Ultimately, it's Gibraltar's citizens who pay the price. For a little promontory, it has a burgeoning sporting life, with well over a hundred registered football teams alone. Its sporting potential should be developed, not sidelined.

Since 2004 Gibraltar has had a voice in the European parliament, and I have been proud to represent it. It should have a presence in European football too.

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