COVID pours cold water on GFA venue plans


Gibraltar given approval by UEFA for Victoria Stadium Image: FIFA

The Gibraltar Football Association’s (GFA) grandiose plans for a new 8,000-seat stadium have hit the COVID-19 speedbreaker and the same has got delayed. It is for this that GFA has been granted an exemption by the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) to continue playing international matches at the Victoria Stadium in Gibraltar.

Gibraltar is a British Overseas Territory located at the bottom of Spain on the narrow gap between Europe and Africa.

The Gibraltar Football Association (GFA) is the governing body for Gibraltarian football and futsal. It was formed as the Gibraltar Civilian Football Association in 1895, changing to its current name in later years. It is one of the oldest football associations in the world.

The 5,000-capacity Victoria Stadium is a multipurpose stadium in Gibraltar. It is currently used mostly for football matches, but also hosts the annual Gibraltar Music Festival. It is located close to Gibraltar Airport just off Winston Churchill Avenue.

The Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) is the administrative body for football, futsal and beach soccer in Europe. It is one of six continental confederations of world football’s governing body FIFA. UEFA consists of 55 national association members.

GFA sources informed that European football’s governing body has given the nod to GFA’s application for the forthcoming 2022 FIFA World Cup™ qualifying competition, with Gibraltar set to host its first home fixture against Norway on March 24th.

Earlier, UEFA had told GFA that further exemptions will not be granted after the 2020 Nations League campaign as the Victoria Stadium does not match up to even the minimum criteria for official international competition.

GFA sources further informed that in April 2017, it was announced that Gibraltar’s matches would be held on the British territory’s home soil following a deal for Victoria Stadium to be upgraded. The Gibraltar national team had joined the UEFA fold in 2014, and since then it had played its home matchups in Faro, Portugal, due to lack of proper facilities.

The Gibraltar national football team represents Gibraltar in international football competitions, and is controlled by the Gibraltar Football Association (GFA). Their home facility is the Victoria Stadium.

The GFA agreed to upgrade the stadium to an 8,000-seat ground with the help of UEFA and FIFA infrastructure funding. The GFA now owns Victoria Stadium and in September 2018 it was granted outline planning permission to build a new 8,000-capacity stadium on the same site by the country’s Development and Planning Commission.

Denmark-based engineering company Ramboll was employed by GFA to provide multidisciplinary engineering services for the project, in tandem with the Stadium Consultancy.

In a statement sent out recently, the GFA said that pre COVID-19, it had aimed to start building the New National Stadium in the third quarter of 2020, rendering Victoria Stadium unavailable for at least 18 to 24 months.

The Stadium Consultancy is a specialist consultancy company offering a full range of services for the planning, development, operation and management of stadiums and arenas.

GFA sources further stated that COVID-19 totally derailed their venue plans and delayed the original timeline, freeing up Victoria Stadium. The delay forced a senior GFA delegation to make written and oral representations to UEFA in December 2019, asking for further dispensation to allow Victoria Stadium to be used once again.

After what the GFA termed as “lengthy discussions”, UEFA has granted the request, but with riders similar to those imposed for the Euro 2020 qualifiers. One of the conditions is that Victoria Stadium should be used to stage all home matches, meaning that the construction of the New Stadium cannot commence until after the final scheduled World Cup qualifier on November 16th. The GFA said it is now working towards this date, and will provide more information in this regard soon.

The other terms set by UEFA relate to several upgrades which need to be made to Victoria Stadium. As such, the GFA will shortly commence work onsite in order to meet UEFA’s conditions ahead of the Norway game.

Said GFA General Secretary, Ivan Robba, “This is great news for the Gibraltar FA and for Gibraltar as a whole. We have been working hard with UEFA to get this exemption, as we strongly believe that this was the most sensible way forward given the difficulties that COVID-19 is causing everywhere.”

Robba added, “The idea of having to play our home matches in another country was very worrying for us, so we are extremely grateful to UEFA for understanding us and facilitating matters for us. This now means that, COVID permitting, Gibraltar will again play world class international teams in the most prestigious international competitions on home soil.”

The top sports official continued, “In this regard, we are very conscious of the pandemic and the current restrictions imposed in Gibraltar as a result, so we are working and will continue to work closely with all relevant authorities to ensure that all measures are complied with accordingly. Though it is too soon to tell, we sincerely hope, especially with the recently implemented vaccination program, that Gibraltar will be in a position to allow spectators into the Victoria Stadium to witness and experience such matches, as playing the UEFA Nations League without our supporters did not feel right at all.”

The UEFA Nations League is a biennial international football competition contested by the senior men’s national teams of the member associations of UEFA. The first tournament began in September 2018, following the 2018 FIFA World Cup™.

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