Charlie presents the medals for the women's beam event at this summer’s Commonwealth Games (Photo: John Shephard, Gibraltar Commonwealth Games Association)
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Special Interview Feature

“Politics and sport shouldn’t meet”: Gibraltar and the Commonwealth Games

Team Gibraltar has just completed an admirable stint at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. We asked Charlie Flower, president of the Gibraltar Commonwealth Games Association, about the territory’s sporting history and future.

New Statesman: What is the history of Gibraltar's participation in the Commonwealth Games?

Charlie Flower: Gibraltar’s participation goes back to 1958 when it was called the British & Empire Games and was held in Cardiff. It was a special moment for me because I was able to represent my country in its first Games. I was also the flag bearer and travelled with another athlete, Brian Kitchener, who ran the mile and the 880 yards.

NS: How many times have you been to the Games? 

CF: Wales was my only Games as an athlete, but I’ve also been a coach once and I’ve travelled as chef de mission / general team manager five times. More recently, I’ve been at the Games in Delhi and Glasgow in my current role.

NS: You have just been awarded an Order of Merit for 60 years of service to sport in Gibraltar. How has the quality of sport in Gibraltar changed during this time?

CF: In some sports, the quality has exceeded expectations. However, in other areas it has moved more slowly. Gibraltar has the athletes to compete at international level but politics on the global stage plays its part in Gibraltar’s development.

NS: What have been the most significant milestones? 

CF: There have been many great achievements, whether Commonwealth activities or not. Gibraltar had an abundance of quality middle-distance runners from 1970 to 1984, which coincided with the closed-border years. Rifle shooting has also been of the highest level and continues to grow, with an individual performer of note being Heloise Manasco, who reached the final of the 10m women’s Air Rifle in Melbourne. Triathlon has also grown in popularity over the past dozen years.

NS: Tell us about your own career as an athlete. You were the first Gibraltarian to compete in the Commonwealth Games in 1958 – what was that like? 

CF: I was a keen sportsman and participated in most sports as a youngster on the Rock, although athletics was my forte. I specialised in one lap of the track, which was 440 yards in those days. It was a special moment for me in 1958 as it was a daunting prospect being on the start line in Cardiff up against world-renowned runners. I finished fifth in the first heat, clocking 53.10.

NS: How about this year's team – in what sports is Gibraltar particularly strong?

CF: This year’s team was the largest we’ve been able to send, with a total of 27 athletes across nine sports. There was a lot of experience, with some having competed three or four times before, but there were also a lot of youngsters cutting their teeth at this level for the first time.

We featured in three of the shooting disciplines. This included Albert Buhagiar and Wayne Piri competing in the 50m prone rifle, with Wayne finishing 14th out of 60 shooters.

It was a special Games for Wayne, with both his daughters also competing. Natalie was in the women’s prone rifle, while Stephanie shot in the 10m air rifle. Both shot well in their first Games and will surely return in four years time.

Clay trap shooters Kevin Cowles and Gary Cooper had a reasonable first day of competition but fell away in the second day, while air pistol pair Jonathan Patron and Louis Baglietto were solid, but will feel they have unfinished business.

We competed in squash for the first time, and the trio of Christian Navas, Anthony Brindle and Mark Tewkesbury all performed admirably against most of the world’s top 20. Anthony, in fact, made it to the second round of the singles.

The swim squad broke five national records across the six days in the pool, with the team blooding three young swimmers during the course of the first week.

The cyclists were just outside the top 30 in the time trial. With over 60 riders having taken to the start, the course was very demanding, but they stuck to their task.

Triathlon on the first day was of the highest calibre, with Gibraltar’s three triathletes up against the top in the world. Under the rules of the event, two of the Gibraltar boys were “pulled” from the elite race after being lapped by the race leaders, but the veteran Chris Walker was able to finish.

I’ve left my sport, athletics, till last. It started with disappointment, with Allison Edwards pulling out at the half way stage in the Marathon due a reoccurring injury. Allison was making her Games debut in her forties and I know how hard she had trained.

Emma Montiel battled bravely in the 10,000m, which is a gruelling 25 laps of the track. She was up against a whole host of world-class distance runners, while young sprinter Jerai Torres recorded two season bests in the 100m and 200m.

Gibraltar’s participation finished on a high, with Harvey Dixon breaking a national record that had stood for 28 years in the 1500m.

NS: What is support for the Commonwealth Games and the Gibraltar team like back home? Do the Games make Gibraltarians feel more British?

CF: The support is getting better and has grown in recent years, as we’ve looked to promote ourselves better. However, I still think we don’t get the support we deserve.

I don’t think the Games make Gibraltarians feel more British; that’s already part of our identity. We do feel part of a unique family alongside the other 70 nations of the Commonwealth.

NS: What has been the most memorable event for you throughout your career with the Gibraltar Commonwealth Games Association? 

CF: For me it is being flag bearer at the age of 21, but other memorable highlights include Heloise making the final in Melbourne, rhythmic gymnast Georgina Cassar making the final in Delhi, and hockey umpire Nathan Stagno officiating the final of the men’s hockey in India.

NS: It's rumoured that you will be retiring after this year's Games. What would you like your legacy to be? What are your hopes for the future of competitive sport in Gibraltar?

CF: Yes, I will be passing on the baton as President of the Gibraltar Commonwealth Games Association. My legacy is 60 years in sport, helping and being at the forefront of Gibraltar’s participation at the Games and as part of the Federation.

My hopes for the future are that one day Gibraltar will have athletes competing at the highest level on the international stage without obstacles and hindrance.

Politics and sport shouldn’t meet. We constantly strive for this. We’ve already had athletes participate at the Olympics for GB. Last time out in London, Georgina Cassar competed as part of the GB rhythmic gymnastics team, and Nathan, whom I’ve also already mentioned, officiated the hockey competition.

We can compete, it’s just a matter of time.

 

Charlie (right) shows off his Order of Merit alongside veteran triathlete Chris Walker (Photo: John Shephard, Gibraltar Commonwealth Games Association)

 

Photo: Getty
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Looking to the future

In our last regular article on Gibraltar for a while, Gibraltar Chronicle editor Brian Reyes looks to the economic and political outlook for the short and medium term.

At the beginning of March, over 150 members of the local business community gathered in the World Trade Center construction site for a ‘topping out’ ceremony. As the last beam was placed on the structure, guests heard speeches about Gibraltar’s resilient economy, its potential for international growth and the need to offer global businesses the necessary working environment to remain competitive.

The EU referendum and the prospect of a so-called Brexit are dominating the headlines, and much of the coverage is gloomy. But in the background, Gibraltar’s private sector continues to drive projects which, in the long term, will help attract international investors to the Rock.

Earlier that same day, Gibraltar’s Development and Planning Commission heard submissions from well-known British architect Jonathan Manser, who leads the design team behind Eurocity, another major development that has its eye on Gibraltar and a prosperous future.

There are other schemes too, some still on the drawing board, some already under way. The MidTown Development, a mix of offices and top-end flats, is funded by a local consortium on a prime site in the heart of town. On the east of the Rock, the ambitious Bluewater project promises a mix of luxury and affordable homes alongside a marina. There are plans too for a former Ministry of Defence site named after Admiral Rooke, while in the Old Town, developers and individual home owners are breathing life into this run down but charming warren of steep, narrow alleyways.

Elsewhere, work is progressing on key infrastructure that will be essential for Gibraltar’s future, in or out of the EU.

Experts are finalising the environmental impact assessment for a facility that will store liquefied natural gas for Gibraltar’s new power station, already under construction. Work should resume too on the airport tunnel project, vital to freeing up Gibraltar’s clogged roads. A new sewage treatment plant, although still some way off, is also in the pipeline, a critical and long-overdue element of Gibraltar’s infrastructure.

There are new attractions for tourists - the opening of the Upper Rock rope bridge and sky platform is eagerly awaited by locals too - and important developments in culture and education, where the University of Gibraltar is building strong academic links across the community and beyond.

And against the background of uncertainty over the UK’s - and by extension Gibraltar’s - membership of the EU, the Gibraltar Government is leaving nothing to chance. A team of economists is analysing the different possible permutations of membership of the EU, EFTA or the EEA, including the potential effects on the Rock’s export economy of membership of the Common Customs Union. 

Despite the combative nature of Gibraltarian politics, there is unity on this question. Both the Gibraltar Government of Gibraltar and the Opposition agree that the UK and Gibraltar should remain in the EU and that Brexit could undermine the Rock’s economic model, creating uncertainty that Spain will undoubtedly seek to exploit. They add that the UK must factor Gibraltar into any post-Brexit negotiation with the EU.

Gibraltar’s long-term economic future will also be placed under scrutiny locally this year by the 2025 Committee, which brings together the public and private sectors and unions to draw up 10-year strategies for the different sectors of the economy, identifying challenges and opportunities in areas as diverse as e-gaming and shipping. A key element of this will be to find new opportunities for business in emerging markets in Asia, the Americas, the Middle East and Africa.

In parallel, a cross-party select committee of the Gibraltar Parliament will analyse various aspects of the 2006 Constitution ahead of a constitutional conference with the United Kingdom on a date yet to be determined. Along with the UK’s referendum on EU membership, the constitutional review will dominate much of parliamentary and political activity during 2016 and likely into 2017. If any changes are proposed as a result of the review, they will first have to be put to a referendum before they can be adopted.

Gibraltar is keeping a wary eye too on Spain, which has yet to swear in a government following an inconclusive general election last December. The future of cross-border relations will depend not just on whether the UK remains within the EU, but on the outcome of the post-election wrangling in Spain.

But even as Spanish politicians try to hammer out a coalition pact in a bid to avoid a return to the polls in June, there is grassroots contact across the border.

The Cross Frontier Group, which brings together business and union interests from Gibraltar and the Campo de Gibraltar, is forging ahead with a proposal to access EU funding for cross-border initiatives. Separately, the government continues to maintain contact with Spanish politicians ranging from PSOE senators to the mayor of La Linea, Juan Franco.

The hope is that, having cleared the EU referendum hurdle, Gibraltar will be able to develop positive dialogue with Spain, irrespective of who is in government. There is much to be gained through practical cooperation in areas as diverse as commerce, culture and sport.

There is, inevitably, a degree of caution. Spain’s acting Foreign Minister, José Manuel García-Margallo, has signalled that if Britain left the EU - and if his party remained in power - he would seek to revive the joint sovereignty proposal robustly rejected by Gibraltar in 2002. 

It would be a move doomed to failure because Gibraltar will have nothing to do with such a a proposal, and neither will the UK. Their shared view is that nothing can be decided on Gibraltar’s future without the agreement of the Gibraltarians.

When he was sworn in as Gibraltar’s new Governor last January, Lieutenant General Edward Davis reaffirmed the UK’s double-lock commitment to the people of Gibraltar, underscoring their inalienable right to self-determination and the UK’s commitment to secure their consent in all matters that pertain to the sovereignty of Gibraltar.  

In doing so, he was reflecting the words of one of his predecessors, General Sir William Jackson.

“Gibraltar is neither Spain’s to claim nor Britain’s to give,” Sir William wrote, in a sentence that resonates to this day and sums up the situation succinctly.

“It is the rock of the Gibraltarians.”

This will be the last item on the New Statesman’s Gibraltar hub for at least a while. We’ve thoroughly enjoyed bringing you insights and hopefully greater understanding of the issues affecting the Rock as well as its politics, culture, geology and a great deal else. We would like to thank our sponsors the Gibraltar government, our many writers and above all our readers.

Charlotte Simmonds, editor, March 2014-March 2015

Guy Clapperton, editor March 2015-March 2016

Brian Reyes is the editor of the Gibraltar Chronicle.