GIBRALTAR (GibChronicle / Liam Franco and agencies) Chad Thomson, Gibraltar Rugby Football Union (GRFU) general secretary, claimed Spanish representatives had contacted each of the 44 nations prior to the FIRA-AER congress in Stockholm, Sweden, held on July 6 to influence their decision against Gibraltar’s bid to become part of the European governing body. Gibraltar had strong support at the vote last weekend – including from the Scandinavian countries - but failed to gain the majority it required for membership. Gibraltar won 136 votes in favour of its admission, with 134 votes against and 31 abstentions. But the Rock’s rugby players needed at least 201 votes to get in.>>>
“It’s very disappointing and there was a sense of disbelief [when the result of the vote was announced],” Mr Thomson told the Chronicle.
“But we will keep putting pressure on FIRA.”
Gibraltar’s rugby players were trying to emulate their football counterparts, who were accepted as members of governing body UEFA in May in the teeth of Spanish objections, but were denied in a vote of FIRA-AER members in Stockholm.
Mr Thomson said the organisation had failed to win the necessary two-thirds majority “despite meeting all the criteria” for membership.
Jose Maria Epalza, a Spaniard who is the FIRA-AER general treasurer, had been allowed to make a speech against Gibraltar’s membership bid despite it not being on the assembly’s official agenda, Thomson said.
“Rugby lost and politics won today,” he told Reuters by telephone from the Swedish capital.
“We are a new union with some good players and this will stop the growth of the rugby family.”
“Rugby likes to distinguish itself from other sports in terms of fair play but that wasn’t the case here.”
An edict from Spain’s nation’s sports council (Consejo Superior de Deportes, CSD) to sports federations instructs them to block any membership application from organisations in Gibraltar.
CSD president Miguel Cardenal, a state secretary, welcomed the outcome of Saturday’s vote and said it was positive that “sport and politics had not been allowed to mix”.
“The Spanish rugby federation (FER, Federación Española de Rugby) must be congratulated, their president Javier Gonzalez Cancho, as well as Jose Maria Epalza...for the way they defended their position,” Sr Cardenal was quoted as saying in local media.
“And it must be reiterated that sport and politics, as we have made clear in similar situations, must follow different paths.”
The GRFU still remain optimistic and return to “business as usual” as they look to arrange friendlies with those nations who supported Gibraltar’s bid.
(Note: A meeting of the GRFU was scheduled for last week to plan the future out of Europe. If you were there, or have authority to do so, please write in and let us know.)