Gibraltar: It's as if we are a 'pariah state'
GIBRALTAR (AP) At halftime, it's FIFA 1, Gibraltar 0.
Still on the outside and looking in, Gibraltar accuses FIFA of treating it like a ''pariah state'' by blocking the British colony's attempts to become a member of world football's governing body.
Gibraltar needed a ruling by the Court of Arbitration for Sport to gain full membership to the European governing body UEFA in 2013 after a 16-year fight, which seemingly cleared the path for the tiny territory to be recognized by FIFA.
However, FIFA rejected Gibraltar's application in September, saying it is not an independent country and therefore not eligible for membership under the governing body's current statutes. Gibraltar will appeal to CAS again to get the decision overturned.
''It would be an incongruous and frankly ridiculous situation to be members of our confederation but not members of the world governing body,'' Dennis Beiso, chief executive of the Gibraltar Football Association, told The Associated Press. ''You would think we are a pariah state sometimes, that we have to jump through these bureaucratic hoops.
''I wonder and suspect there are political agendas behind it. It always seems to be the case with Gibraltar.''
FIFA declined comment on whether Gibraltar had been treated fairly, and directed The Associated Press to its regulations on admitting new members.
Gibraltar's campaign for recognition in the football community has long been resisted by Spain, which claims sovereignty over the territory that was ceded to Britain in the 1713 Treaty of Utrecht. The strategically situated rock at the entrance of the Mediterranean Sea has had a British military base ever since.
FIFA vice president Angel Maria Villar, who is also president of the Spanish football federation, is an influential opponent of Gibraltar's within the world governing body. A 16-year veteran of the FIFA executive committee, Villar is also chairman of its legal committee.
Already playing in qualifying for the 2016 European Championship, Gibraltar also hopes to be in the 2018 World Cup qualifying draw next July. That entry requires acceptance as a FIFA member by the other 209 federations, which next meet at their congress in Zurich on May 29.
''At a sporting level, it creates a problem for us because it would mean that our national team has two-year cycles of football and no football,'' Beiso said in an interview in the GFA's boardroom. ''We'd be able to compete in Euro qualifiers but not World Cup qualifiers, which is a ridiculous and untenable situation.''
Beiso said he was ''confident'' CAS would accept Gibraltar's case.
No timetable has yet been set for the appeal hearing, and Gibraltar could be left relying on FIFA's co-operation to complete the case by May. CAS cases typically are fast-tracked only when both parties agree a deadline.
FIFA also declined comment when asked if it would help Gibraltar and the court to reach a verdict before the May congress.
The CAS panel will likely be asked to study FIFA's admission rules, which were updated and approved by its executive committee in March 2013, two months before Gibraltar gained UEFA membership.
By 2018, GFA chief executive Beiso believes Gibraltar could have its own 8,000-seat national stadium built so it can host its home matches on the rock.
Gibraltar's players and fans currently have to make a five-hour drive to Faro in Portugal to play ''home'' games in European Championship qualifying because the only stadium on the territory does not meet the required UEFA standards.
Victoria Stadium, located near the Spanish border, has a capacity of about 2,200 - well short of the 8,000 needed for matches in UEFA competition.
''If we do get the green light within the next year, I am hopeful that by 2018 we will have it up and running,'' Beiso said.
The plan, backed by UEFA, is for a newly built arena to be at the southern tip of the territory at Europa Point, which overlooks the Strait of Gibraltar and where there are views across to Africa.
''It's a symbolic location,'' Beiso said. ''We have suggested to UEFA that we could use the stadium as a bridge-building, an interconfederational venue - for UEFA and CAF. And bringing the Moroccan national team over and assisting UEFA in improving relations with CAF.
''They love the idea.''
The stadium plans will soon be put before Gibraltar's development and planning commission, but there is some opposition from local residents.
AP Sports Writer Graham Dunbar in Geneva contributed to the report