Gibraltar’s Battle for International Recognition

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After years of struggle, several applications, and in spite of repeated opposition, Gibraltar finally achieved their dream of becoming a FIFA member in May this year. It had taken a Court of Arbitration for Sport ruling to finally see the team from the Rock admitted to global football’s family, but their long journey finally came to the end that the Gibraltar FA had been dreaming of for so long.

Objections had been the strongest from Spain, who at one team even threatened to withdraw from all international and club UEFA tournaments in protest. Spain had ceded Gibraltar to the UK in 1713, but recent years have seen a great increase in Spanish claims to jurisdiction over the Rock once more. There was also the fear that a Gibraltar national team may give cause to increased efforts from Catalonia and Basque Country towards their own independence from Spain.

UEFA membership had come two year’s earlier, with acceptance finally granted due to the fact that Gibraltar had applied under a previous set of regulations which, crucially, didn’t stipulate that the nation applying must be a member of the United Nations in its own right.

Gibraltar is a territory of the United Kingdom, and as such would fail to meet the updated requirements for entry. And yet, their territorial status was no different to the Faroe Islands, for instance, which is a member of UEFA and FIFA despite being a Danish territory.

If we broaden things out even further, there are numerous FIFA members who are not independent states. From the point of view of this blog, nations such as Montserrat, Turks & Caicos Islands, Anguilla, Guam, American Samoa and others are territories or other denominations of non-independent states. On the issue of sovereignty and global footballing membership there is a blurred line drawn in various shades of grey, and it had seemed for so long that Gibraltar had found themselves caught on the wrong side of it.

All that changed when UEFA accepted Gibraltar in time for the Euro 2016 campaign. After years of competing with the likes of Jersey, Guernsey, Isle of Man, Aaland Islands, Shetlands and the likes in the Island Games, or in various forms of Unofficial World Cups notably the FIFI Wild Cup, Gibraltar’s first UEFA sanctioned matches saw some impressive friendly results. However, once the real action kicked off Gibraltar found things unsurprisingly hard going. Put in a group with the World Champions Germany, plus Poland, Ireland, Scotland and Georgia, Gibraltar were always going to struggle, and they ended the group without any points.

But they didn’t finish without any notable achievements. The pick of their first campaign would surely be the moment when Lee Casciaro scored a magnificent equaliser at Hampden Park in Glasgow to hold Scotland to 1-1 for a while, before the inevitable defeat eventually materialised. Not far behind must be the away match in Germany when the tiny nations restricted Germany to only a 4-0 victory.

It had seemed that after the Euro 2016 qualifiers came to an end that so had Gibraltar’s competitive action for a while. No FIFA membership meant no World Cup qualifiers, and from our perspective, it meant no world ranking. But that all changed recently as Gibraltar, along with Kosovo, were accepted into FIFA in time to begin Europe’s qualifiers this September. Their first FIFA sanctioned matches saw two defeats, and the subsequent ranking at the bottom of the world rankings.

Given some of draws and a win that Gibraltar had managed in friendlies over the last couple of years it is unfortunate, and rather frustrating, that Gibraltar have gained no ranking points as a result. But the rankings are a FIFA entity, and Gibraltar’s FIFA matches have only just begun. Bad news for Gibraltar after some of the positive results they’d had before FIFA membership was secured, but it does mean that we here at Worst in the World can now follow Gibraltar’s exploits.

“We are realistic about what we can achieve on the pitch but that is not the point,” said Michael Llamas, the head of the Gibraltar football association.

“The point is that our many children who love our sport and who now will be the first generation of Gibraltarians to grow up with Fifa membership. They will be able to dream.”

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