Chief Minister Fabian Picardo has described as “hugely significant” the references made by the Court of Arbitration for Sport regarding Gibraltar’s status, insisting they could have wider implications beyond sport.
Last week the Chronicle reported how the legal decision that cleared the way for the Gibraltar FA to join FIFA includes an unequivocal statement that Gibraltar cannot be denied its rights at the whim of Spain.
The CAS panel dismissed the assertion that Gibraltar was a disputed, sensitive territory and said blocking Gibraltar’s membership of FIFA on those grounds would amount to a veto “without any legal basis”.
Speaking ahead of Gibraltar’s first European World Cup qualifier against Greece this evening, Mr Picardo told the Chronicle that the decision represented a “seminal moment” in Gibraltar’s international legal case.
The decision, he said, may well have ramifications well beyond the world of sport.
“They were very clear and trenchant in the view that they expressed that Gibraltar’s status is not disputed,” he said.
“That Spain may have a claim, that is one thing, but it is quite different to say that the status of the territory is disputed in international law just because a state has a claim.”
“I think it is hugely significant because it is an objective assessment of the same argument that Spain puts before the United Nations and other bodies about the status of Gibraltar.”
The objective assessment was made, the Chief Minister said, with the benefit of high-level submissions from Gibraltar and the GFA. He also highlighted the top-level calibre of the arbitrators who sat on the CAS board and made the assessment.
“It doesn’t just have the fantastic result it has had for football in Gibraltar,” Mr Picardo said.
“I think it is actually a seminal moment in the development of Gibraltar’s international legal case.”
Gibraltar plays Greece this evening in the Estadio Algarve in Faro, in the first World Cup qualifier ever played but the national squad.
Following its admission into FIFA last May, Gibraltar was placed in UEFA Group H for the 2018 World Cup Qualifiers, alongside Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Estonia and Cyprus.
Ahead of tonight’s match, GFA general secretary Dennis Beiso said FIFA membership represent a “hugely important” step for the development of the national team.
“Had we not acquired FIFA membership earlier this year, it would have meant the national team would have had to wait until 2018 for competitive international football,” he said.
“This would have been a sporting nonsense — the national team would be eligible to participate in UEFA competitions, but excluded from FIFA competitions resulting in alternating two-year cycles with and without international football”
“Thankfully, common sense has prevailed and our national team is able to benefit from a normal programme of international competition.”
Mr Beiso said that at a practical level there was little difference between the European and World Cup qualifiers.
“But the romance of participating in our first World Cup cannot be ignored,” he said.
“Conceding less goals, scoring more, and obtaining our first point in competitive internationals are all realistic ambitions for this campaign.”
And he added that Lincoln’s recent historic win over Celtic would serve as inspirations for local players during the World Cup campaign.
“There is no doubt that, somewhere, at some time, Gibraltar will cause an upset,” he said.
“We are confident it will come during these qualifiers.”
The SDGG has expressed “great satisfaction” at news that the Court of Arbitration for Sport has issued a judgement categorically stating that there is no legitimate dispute over the territory of Gibraltar.
“It may be that Gibraltar is the subject of an irredentist claim from a Spain that obstinately refuses to accept the reality but, for the first time ever, a court of law has made it clear that said claim is illegitimate,” the group said.
“The SDGG considers that this judgement may have wider ramifications than simply obliging FIFA to accept Gibraltar into its membership and as a group it will do all that it can to raise awareness of the important CAS decision.”
“Meanwhile, it is hoped that institutions such as the European Commission or the United Nations take careful note of the decision when dealing with issues that affect Gibraltar and have the courage that CAS has had to put Spain in its place.”