This story also appears at PlayTheGame.org
After what is surely the longest wait of any country that has actually applied to join one of FIFA’s six confederations, the Gibraltar Football Association were today - 14 years after first applying – accepted into UEFA.
After first applying in 1999, UEFA changed its membership criteria so that all new members must be in the United Nations. That was done solely to appease Spain, who had threatened to quit all international football, a threat that has proved totally empty.
After three rulings by the Court of Arbitration for Sport that UEFA’s rule change was unfair, UEFA director Senes Erzik told delegates at the European body’s congress today in London that under the original statutes set out in 1999, Gibraltar was entitled to full membership.
Erzik recommended to the congress that Gibraltar be accepted and the vote went through. Afterwards. GFA president Gareth Latin said: “It has been a long journey but football and all our love for the sport has prevailed. This is a momentous occasion for football on Gibraltar. We can now begin the next chapter of Gibraltar football, offering our football community the best possible future and development means.”
As he left the stage, delegates applauded including, according to veteran commentator Keir Radnedge, Angel Maria Villar, the influential president of the Spanish federation, the RFEF.
Unlike the four French territories and the Dutch island of Sint Maarten, which were admitted to Concacaf last month, Gibraltar can now expect a significant financial windfall.
A couple of years ago a British military base on the Rock was handed back to the Gibraltarian government. On the southern-most point of Gibraltar, Europa Point had hosted cricket and rugby but will now be the site of a new 8,000-capacity international-standard stadium.
Mark Fenwick, from Fenwick Iribarren Architects, the designers of the Espanyol stadium in Barcelona and a leading Uefa expert on stadia design, is helping with plans, which remain at outline stage.
As a member of UEFA, Gibraltar can now apply for funding for this stadium from UEFA's HatTrick programme, which is putting up €2 million of the €3.5 million cost of a new stadium in Andorra.
UEFA membership has other benefits. Last autumn, €40 million was paid out to clubs that released players for national sides in the Euro 2012 qualifiers. If as expected Gibraltar is included in the draw for qualifying for Euro 2016 – an event scheduled for the Palais des Congres Acropolis in Nice on 9 March – the Rock’s clubs will get another windfall.
English side Portsmouth would get a payment for releasing the Gibraltarian midfielder Liam Walker; so would other clubs back on the Rock that supplied players to the Gibraltarian national side for Euro 2016 qualifiers. In tiny San Marino, a dozen Sammarinese clubs shared €566,038 from the Euro 2012 payout ranging from €4,193 for SP Cailungo to €104,822 to AC Juvenes-Dogana. For Gibraltarian football, which has no outside funding, that is a major fillip.
Then there are the Champions and Europa leagues. A side losing in the first qualifying round of the 2012/13 Champions League received €340,000. Even losing in the first round of the Europa League is worth €100,000 regardless of the result. Although including Gibraltarian clubs in Europe could be confusing, however, as the colony has its own Manchester United, formed back in 1957 and which plays in the Rock's first division.
The chances of Gibraltar getting into FIFA remain slim. The four French territories have no plans to take that next step and, as a British overseas territory, Gibraltar would surely have little chance. But, in the short term, getting into UEFA is enough. Gibraltar is no longer an Outcast – in Europe, at least.