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SBD Global/May 24, 2013/International Football

Gibraltar Moving Closer To Having Football Team Recognized By Sport's Governing Bodies

The "latest flash point of sports and int'l politics" is Gibraltar, the tiny tip of the Iberian Peninsula that for centuries has endured as a tug of war between Spain and Britain, according to James Montague of the N.Y. TIMES. The current dispute centers on the Gibraltar football team, an "unlikely collection of amateur players who are generally considered past their athletic prime." However, Gibraltar is not aiming to become a football "powerhouse." Gibraltar would simply like its football team "to be recognized by the sport’s various governing bodies, and perhaps one day to compete in the World Cup." However, Spain, the big next-door neighbor that happens to be the reigning World Cup and European champion, "objects." Spain aruges that Gibraltar "is a territory that should not stand on its own," in football or otherwise. The issue "has stirred one of the most volatile," if obscure, disputes in int'l sports. Spain has gone so far as to "threaten to remove" marquee clubs like Real Madrid and Barcelona from European competition if Gibraltar is acknowledged as an independent football-playing country. UEFA, which was forced to admit Gibraltar as a provisional member last year, "will decide whether to make it a full member at the organization’s annual congress Friday" (N.Y. TIMES, 5/22).

GETTING THE MESSAGE OUT: In London, Rory Smith wrote the lobbying on behalf of the Gibraltar FA "has been intense." To get the message across, the GFA hired PR firm Maverick, and produced six short films and sent out "reams of documents -- each translated into 41 languages -- to explain the issue. Maverick's Andy Myring said, “It was an easy story to tell. The reaction was very positive from everyone we met. They were charmed by the effort the GFA had made.” GFA's UEFA liaison officer Dennis Beiso said, “We have spent the last three months visiting more than 30 countries and stating our case. It has been a lot of work, but a hugely positive experience. We have 17 teams in two leagues and 500 people playing football on a regular basis. It is not a tin-pot operation. Membership would revolutionise football here. It would mean £2M-£3M ($3M-$4.5M) a year, which we would plough into the grass roots" (LONDON TIMES, 5/24).
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