Spain blocks Gibraltar sports body from joining European federation

By Mark Viales

The Gibraltar Rugby Football Union’s (GRFU) eight-year tussle to join the sport’s European governing body, Rugby Europe, suffered another blow last week following Spanish interjection. 

Representatives from the Spanish Rugby Federation claimed that Gibraltar’s application should be held against the ‘new bylaws’, which would incidentally crush the Rock’s claim to entry.

A Gibraltar delegation visited the French courts in Paris (Rugby Europe falls under French jurisdiction) last week in the hope that the judge would dismiss Spanish opposition.

“Unfortunately the judge felt that it was not clear whether our application fell under the new or old bylaws, which seemed like quite a moot point,” said Maurice Stagnetto, GRFU Chairman. “Therefore we have now been invited by Rugby Europe to join proceedings as a third party with an interest. We will make Gibraltar’s representation to the judge in early January next year.”


The Rock’s initial application came in 2009 and was granted the first of three hearings to date at Stockholm, Sweden, in 2010, well before the new bylaws which were introduced in 2016.

“We are entitled to make a presentation to the courts to prove that we should fall under the old bylaws,” said Mr Stagnetto. “If it is judged that we fall under the new bylaws, then our normal route to membership will be shut.”

Gibraltar will, however, have several steps to pursue should there be a negative outcome, such as applying to adjust the new bylaws to accommodate Gibraltar.

The other option, according to Mr Stagnetto, would be a long and protracted court case against Rugby Europe where the governing body would be accused of discrimination.

When asked if he thought changing the bylaws because of the Rock’s case was realistic, he said that Gibraltar enjoys support within the majority of Rugby Europe membership.

“It will likely be quite challenging, but we only need a majority vote in order to have an amendment,” he said. “I also believe that World Rugby is interested in our case and they are the governing body that sits above Rugby Europe. If they find a law that could be construed as discriminatory, I think they will take issue with that and try to rectify it.”

Over 20 local sports are already affiliated to a European or world governing body and most, if not all, have been subjected to almost identical turmoil incited by Spanish opposition.

The Gibraltar FA was inaugurated into UEFA following a 16-year struggle against Spanish opposition, taking the matter to the Court of Arbitration for Sport on numerous occasions.

At the time, Spain also argued that Gibraltar should be subjected to new UEFA legislation that would have halted any progress, however, having applied in 1999, it was deemed that the old rules would apply.


Mr Stagnetto said that Gibraltar’s appearance on the court’s agenda was circulated to other Rugby Europe members two weeks prior to the General Assembly. Spain opposed the fact that Gibraltar was considered as an item.

“I’ve come to realise just how much politics is intertwined with sport. There are people who use politics in its ugliest sense and we are jumping through every hurdle,” he said. “It is very clear that the member in question is under very strict orders that Gibraltar does not become recognised.”

In 2010 Spain also made an intervention, which was proved to be ‘wholly irregular’ by the French courts, and Gibraltar appeared for another vote in Tbilisi.

“We fell short by 14 votes where we needed a two thirds majority. We know that Spain has great influence with certain countries and their block votes constitute more than other countries. Even Spain’s allies at the time now realise that our situation is not quite how the Spanish portrayed it to them,” Mr Stagnetto said. “We have lost a whole generation of players because of this nonsense. That is the saddest aspect of this all. It is a bit disheartening and you lose a little confidence in justice when these kinds of things happen. Ultimately we believe that we will eventually make it over the try line, but it’s going to be a slog. It is certainly not over.”