Some big news out of UEFA today with Gibraltar being accepted as a member. Â Deadspin has it’s take.
Soccer under the shadow of the Rock goes back a long wayâ€”the Gibraltar Football Association was established in 1895, with a national team forming in 1901 and league play beginning in 1907. This photo shows hundreds of British sailors attending a match in April 1934.
But, still bitter about that whole War of the Spanish Succession thing, Spain has always claimed sovereignty over Gibraltar, and in recent years has stepped up its push for the return of the territory. As part of the politicking, one of the most powerful soccer nations has threatened to boycott international tournaments if little Gibraltar were recognized. The last time UEFA voted on this, in 2007, Spain threatened to pull out of the European Championships, and bar its clubs from the Champions League. Only England, Wales, and Scotland voted for Gibraltar that election.
Who knows what backstage bargaining was done to ensure Gibraltar’s approval this time around, but a 2011 ruling in the Court of Arbitration for Sport had a lot to do with it. UEFA head Michel Platini announced that future Euro draws will be set up so Spain and Gibraltar are placed in opposite brackets. This will only be a problem if both make the finals. This will not be a problem.
With an area of only 2.6 square miles and a population of 30,000, Gibraltar will hardly be a threat to continental powers like Germany and Spain, though the latter’s objections to the move are not so much in fear of Gibraltar, but of other parts of Spain fighting for their own sovereignty. The Spanish FA has publicly shown dissent towards this decision, worrying that this opens the door for Basque and Catalan regions to claim their own independence in footballing terms, something they have both made efforts to do on a political level.
FC Barcelona, who in recent years has cemented their place as a perennial footballing power, is located in the heart of Catalonia, a region where many claim their right to independence from Spain. If Catalonia were to one day be granted the same rights as Gibraltar, players the likes of Cesc Fabregas, Xavi Hernandez and Jordi Alba, mainstays of the European and World Cup champion side, would be eligible to play for a Catalan National side. What’s more, they already have a Catalan National Football team that have played in exhibitions Ã la Washington Generals. They even once had Dutch legend Johan Cruyff as their skipper. It’s easy to claim that players of this stature would never play for a weakened side such as Catalonia, but to understand their beliefs in the rights of an independent state, would be to understand generations of families and their desire to have their own country. The same could occur with players from a Basque autonomous side, despite the fact that the Basque people are spread out over various regions and without the same concentration as the Catalan in Catalonia.
UEFA boss Michel Platini has claimed that Gibraltar and Spain will not be pooled into the same qualifying groups for future tournaments, as with Armenia and Azerbaijan in the past. Surely, this gesture does little to quell the fears of the Spanish FA.
While the dozens of football supporters in Gibraltar should be pleased with UEFA’s decision, there’s reason to side with Spain and understand their position on the matter. Unlike the former Yugoslavia, civil wars have not forced the division of the country, fracturing a footballing power into smaller, still competitive nations the likes of Croatia, Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Despite being merely a drop in the ocean that is European football, UEFA’s move today could signal a change big enough to inspire other communities to seek the same rights.