Gibraltar became the 211th member of FIFA yesterday, bringing to a culmination over two decades of work by the Gibraltar FA to join world football’s governing body.
The FIFA Congress in Mexico City voted overwhelmingly in favour of admitting Gibraltar after a decision of the Court of Arbitration for Sport [CAS] a fortnight ago cleared the way for membership.
Gibraltar first applied to join FIFA in 1991 and again in 1997, but both applications were rejected in large part as a result of pressure from Spain, which argued the Rock was a disputed territory that did not meet FIFA’s criteria for membership.
Yesterday, that position was rejected by 93% of the delegations who voted to back Gibraltar’s entry into FIFA.
Michael Llamas, QC, the President of the GFA and a key member of the legal team that secured the CAS ruling, delivered an emotional speech after the vote.
“As a small nation we are realistic about what we can achieve on the pitch. But that is not the point,” he told delegates at the Congress.
“The point is that in three years of UEFA membership the landscape of football in Gibraltar has been transformed and will now be further transformed by our FIFA membership.”
“The point is that our children, who will be the first generations of Gibraltarians to grow up with FIFA membership, will be able to feel part of the family of world football.”
“They will be able to dream. And that is what is important for us.”
With the FIFA Congress having cleared membership for the GFA, Gibraltar is now entitled to take part in the 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifiers.
UEFA will be tasked to define the modalities of the GFA’s integration into the preliminary competition this September.
Despite the enormity of the occasion Mr Llamas, who has been involved in the GFA’s bid for membership for over a decade, appeared calm as he addressed the 207 delegation present at yesterday’s Congress.
“Rare are the occasions when Gibraltar stands up to address the entire world,” he said.
“It is my privilege to do so today. It has been, for us, a long road to FIFA membership.”
“It feels fantastic to be here and to join FIFA and the family of world football.”
He opened his speech with a message in Spanish to host nation Mexico, which he said had been the backdrop of emblematic World Cups such as 1970 and 1986. Now, he added, Mexico City would hold a special place in Gibraltarian football.
Mr Llamas spoke briefly of Gibraltar’s geographic location in the world and of its neighbour to the north, “…the great football nation that is Spain.” Gibraltar, he said, is a small nation of 32,000 people.
The GFA President also offered his support for FIFA President Gianni Infantino, who he said would lead the organisation “…back to the hearts of the people and to the pinnacle of world football where it belongs.”
“In ancient times, the Rock of Gibraltar was known as one of the Pillars of Hercules that stood at the end of the known world,” Mr Llamas said.
“In Latin, it was referred to as the “Nec plus ultra” which means “nothing further beyond”.”
“Today, we extend our hand of friendship to all the world that does exist beyond.”
The news exploded into a frenzy of joy on social media, with football fans in Gibraltar and Kosovo congratulating each other on the on respective achievements.
The GFA’s general secretary, David Beiso, paid tribute on Facebook to all those who contributed to this achievement over many years of hard work
@Thank you to all those who have led and worked hard for the GFA, past and present,” he wrote.
“Thank you Andrew Perera for having the foresight to submit our FIFA membership application way back in 1997.”
“Thank you Joey Nuñez for winning the long legal battles with CAS that set us on the right road.”
“Thank you Michael Llamas for your excellent direction of the CAS case v FIFA, and for your humble, dignified and brilliant speech today.”
“Thank you to the players, coaches, referees, club officials and parents who make football in our country work for no reward.”
“Team 54. Team 211. Now it’s time to go home and time to get back to work.”
There were also immediate reactions from politicians including Chief Minister Fabian Picardo.
“The whole of Gibraltar will want to celebrate this decision,” Mr Picardo told the Chronicle.
“Gibraltar is now a full part in its own right of the international football community.”
“This is much deserved, long sought and hard fought recognition of the efforts of the Gibraltarian football fraternity. My warmest and heartiest congratulations to all involved.”
“Michael Llamas spoke not just for all of them but for all of Gibraltar in his gracious and powerful speech upon admission.”
“I very much look forward to celebrating this decision with the whole of Gibraltar in the coming weeks in an appropriate manner that must involve our whole community.”
Edwin Reyes, the GSD’s shadow minster for sport, also expressed joy at the news.
“We’re delighted,” he said. “We’re overjoyed for the GFA and the local football community and wish them well as they promote the sport for future generations of Gibraltarians.”