x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Minnow hopes to take a bite of Uefa pie

Borussia Dortmund or Bayern Munich will net more than €50 million for reaching the Champions League final at Wembley Stadium on May 25 but, the day before, the British colony of Gibraltar could also be a big winner in London.

Borussia Dortmund or Bayern Munich will net more than €50 million (Dh236.2m) for reaching the Champions League final at Wembley Stadium on Saturday but, the day before, the British colony of Gibraltar could also be a big winner in London.

On Friday, Uefa holds its annual congress in the capital and will vote on an application by Gibraltar to join the European body that could produce a multimillion-euro windfall for the game on the Rock.

Gibraltar has been trying to join Uefa since 1999 but Spain claims sovereignty over the 6.5-square kilometre outpost. After Gibraltar applied, the Spanish persuaded Uefa to change its membership criteria. Now, all new members must be in the United Nations. That succeeded in blocking the Gibraltar Football Association's (GFA) bid.

The GFA appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), which declared that changing the rules after Gibraltar applied was unfair. In January 2007 - and at just two weeks' notice - Gibraltar was given a chance to present its case to a Uefa congress in Frankfurt only to be undone by furious lobbying from Ángel María Villar Llona, the president of the Spanish football federation, the Reef. The only support came from Scotland, Wales and the Republic of Ireland - not even England backed Gibraltar.

After a CAS ruling in August 2011 produced a third motion supporting Gibraltar, Uefa produced a road map. Gibraltar was admitted as a provisional member in October and included in draws for Uefa qualifiers for Under-17, Under-19 and futsal competitions - a short-sided version of football popular in southern Europe, particularly Spain. Most crucially, the GFA's application would go to the next Uefa Congress, on Friday.

Since the road map was unveiled, the GFA has been trekking across Europe lobbying. One of the world's oldest associations dating back to 1895, the GFA is putting across a footballing rather than political argument. The qualifiers for futsal proved vital. Although Gibraltar lost 10-2 to Montenegro and 6-2 to France it beat San Marino 7-5. After thrashing the Faroe Islands 3-0 in an 11-a-side game in 2011, Gibraltar would not be the worst team in Europe, an honour that rests with San Marino according Uefa 2011 rankings.

A simple majority of Uefa's 53 members is all Gibraltar needs. If the GFA proves successful, acceptance could transform the commercial side of the game there and produce a new international football stadium. Gibraltar has only one pitch, the artificial surface at the Victoria Stadium, situated on land between the Rock and Spain that also houses the colony's airport. When football's world governing body Fifa was asked by Uefa, its European equivalent, to comb its statutes for a reason to bar the Gibraltarians a few years ago, the pitch was cited as a reason.

In addition, Spain never formally ceded control of the island and Fifa rules insist internationals cannot be played on disputed land.

A couple of years ago a British military base on the Rock was handed back to the Gibraltarian government providing a second pitch that is uncontestably in Gibraltar.

The military pitch at Europa Point, the southern-most point of the Rock, had hosted cricket and rugby. With Gibraltar on the verge of formally entering the global game, the GFA plans to build an 8,000-capacity international-standard stadium.

"We expect to retain Victoria Stadium as a secondary venue for football, for second-division matches and youth-level matches, plus as a venue for U-21, U-19 or U-17 national team matches when these coincide with home games for the full national side," says Dennis Beiso, the Uefa liaison officer at the GFA. 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.

"We are still in delicate financial discussions with the Gibraltar government and other interested parties," says Mr Beiso, who admits that without Uefa admission the stadium will not be built. If Gibraltar is accepted, the GFA will apply to Uefa's HatTrick programme, which is bankrolling a new €3.5m stadium in Andorra.

Uefa membership has other benefits. Last autumn, it paid out €40m to clubs that released players for national sides in the Euro 2012 qualifiers. If Gibraltar goes on to play in the Euro 2016 qualifiers, there will be another bonus. The English side Portsmouth would get a payment for releasing the Gibraltarian midfielder Liam Walker; so would other clubs back on the Rock.

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 would be a substantial 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. 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.

"If Gibraltar joins Uefa, clubs from Gibraltar would only be considered for the 2014/15 season, provided they fulfill the club licensing and financial fair play regulations," points out a Uefa spokesman.

Uefa is also agreeing a new deal to collectively sell media rights to national teams' qualifiers. The first deal runs from next year to 2026 and would provide another substantial boost to the GFA, but if it loses out on May 24 it will surely look at its French counterparts and feel particularly aggrieved.

While the UK does virtually nothing to develop sport in any of Britain's remaining colonial outposts, France is very different.

Every two years, the French Football Federation (FFF) spends €900,000 flying teams from eight of France's remaining possessions to Paris for the Overseas Cup. Last month, four of those colonies - Guadeloupe, Martinique, French Guiana and Saint Martin - joined Concacaf, the north, central American and Caribbean federation, as full members with the support of the FFF and no opposition.

At Wembley, Bayern and Borussia will not be the only ones looking for a level playing field.

 

business@thenational.ae