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The journey of Gibraltar’s Football Association – Part 2: growing pains in the professional leagues

Gibraltar_Rock_and_Football_Stadium. Photo: Johnny Napoli
Thursday, 14 May 2015 By Philip Vasquez, Julian Santos

Part 11 of this article explored the key legal milestones of the progress of Gibraltar Football to date including the Gibraltar Football Association’s (“the GFA”) applications to join UEFA and FIFA. In Part 2 of this article, the authors turn to look at the growing pains of the local football association in having to regulate and professionalise the nation’s favourite game.

Gibraltar’s transition from amateur to semi-professional football has not been without its difficulties. Within the last 2 years the GFA has experienced an embarrassing controversy in relation to qualification for the UEFA Europa League, a seismic re-shuffle of the association’s executive, a new club licensing regime and continuing concerns as to how best preserve the interests of Gibraltarian footballers in the light of increasing numbers of international players at domestic competitions. These matters are all perhaps to be expected of an association that has had to learn very quickly while very much in the nascent stages of its new life as a professional sporting association.

The UEFA Europa League Debacle

At the end of the 2013/14 season, its first season as a member of UEFA, the GFA was embroiled in a highly contentious dispute as to which team was entitled to take up its single Europa League spot available.

In September 2013 the GFA adopted a policy stating that Gibraltar's single Europa League place would be taken up by the Premier Division runner-up. This policy was subsequently agreed by all clubs at a meeting on 3 October 2013.

However, shortly before the Rock Cup Final (the GFA's equivalent of the FA Cup) between Premier Division champions Lincoln Red Imps and College Europa, the GFA became aware of Article 2.04 of the Regulations of the UEFA Europa League, which states as follows:

"If the winner of the domestic cup qualifies for the UEFA Champions League, the domestic cup runner-up qualifies for the UEFA Europa League”2

There followed an uncomfortable period of time (including the Rock Cup Final itself) when it remained unclear whether College Europa or Manchester 62 (the second place team in the Premier Division at the time) would take up the coveted spot. It was only after the cup final and following discussions between the GFA and UEFA, as well as both of the affected teams, that the GFA announced that UEFA's rules prevailed over the GFA's policy, and therefore it was the Rock Cup runners-up who would compete in the Europa League.3 Manchester 62, understandably aggrieved by the change of position (no doubt they would have wished to rely on the principle of venire contra factum proprium which worked so well for the GFA in the CAS!), agreed a compensation package with the GFA.4


GFA Executive Shuffle

Early 2015 saw a changing of the guard and brought further controversy for the GFA’s administrative hierarchy, with GFA President Desmond Reoch resigning citing “personal reasons”;5 national team manager Allen Bula being sacked after only 4 competitive games (and bringing Employment Tribunal proceedings which were later settled);6 and the GFA Council being re-shuffled, admitting new members.7 This Council re-shuffle has included the appointment of Gibraltar’s new Attorney General, Michael Llamas QC, as the Association’s new President, which he claims will be more of a ‘symbolic’ role.8 The appointment of Mr Llamas QC came as no surprise as he was a key individual who served the GFA as counsel and leading advisor throughout its application process to UEFA and FIFA.


The GFA’s Executive Re-Structuring

At present, the GFA’s executive structure (which can be viewed here)9 may be described as somewhat antiquated, inefficient and not representative of local players and clubs. As a result of the possibility of a more efficient and representative structure as well as the re-shuffle of the GFA’s Council, the GFA will soon be redesigning the structure of its executive.

According to local sources, following the continued support from the GFA at a technical and legal level, as well as an involvement from a local accounting firm, a Club Association has been set up so that there is, among other things, a fair representation of the football clubs at decision-making level and so that there is an appropriate distribution of funds from all football related activities. This Association has been the result of on-going work, which is expected to come to fruition when the GFA finalises its own the structure.

The GFA’s new structure will be inspired by the English FA’s structure, with a figurehead President and Vice President who will hold overall responsibility for policy.10 Aside from this there will be an executive, a Grass Roots Management Board and four Representatives from the respective leagues and/or club association. Dennis Beiso, CEO of the GFA, has stated to the authors that the structure will become ‘much more streamlined and representative of the local football clubs’. At present, the relevant committees (which consist predominantly of volunteers) do not meet frequently enough to enable the relevant clubs and the GFA to work wholly constructively towards professionalising the GFA further.

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Written by

Philip Vasquez

Philip Vasquez

Philip Vasquez is a Barrister and Acting Solicitor who regularly advises on commercial law, regulation, technology and dispute resolution, Philip also appears regularly in the Magistrates & Supreme Court. Philip is highly active in supporting entrepreneurship and innovative businesses in Gibraltar as an organiser of the Gibraltar Startup Community. Philip is also a co-opted member of the Gibraltar Bar Council.


Julian Santos

Julian Santos

Julian is a barrister at 5RB specialising in media and entertainment law, including defamation, privacy, harassment and data protection.

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