Roy Chipolina (Gibraltar FA/Ian Martinez)
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Special Interview Feature

Footballers in Gibraltar? We mix Latin flair with British organisation

The national team’s captain Roy Chipolina speaks to the NS

New Statesman: Are you originally from Gibraltar?

Roy Chipolina: I was born in Enfield, North London, and moved over to Gibraltar at the age of 4. I lived in Gibraltar until I was 12 before moving back to Enfield. Then at the age of 18, I decided to move back to Gibraltar and have lived here ever since.

NS: When did you start playing football?

RC: From a young age I was always in the playground with my older cousins playing football. It was all I ever did, really. I played for Lincoln in Gibraltar until the age of 12. While in England I played for two Sunday league teams: Enfield Hawks for a season and then Southgate Saints. I have very fond memories of that time both on and off the pitch.

Once I moved back I continued playing for Lincoln and representing Gibraltar, which I still do today. Since joining UEFA, Lincoln has moved from an amateur club to semi-professional, and the club is developing very quickly.

NS: What have been some of the highlights and disappointments of your career so far?

RC: Highlights? Definitely becoming UEFA members, and to be able to captain Gibraltar in this new era of football. Also, achieving a very respectable draw in our first international versus Slovakia and winning our first international match versus Malta. Playing Poland in our first match of the Euro qualifiers was amazing too. To walk out on the same pitch as Robert Lewandowski was just incredible. The result, though, was very disappointing after a very creditable first half. The only career disappointment I have, really, is that I didn’t stay in England for a bit longer and work harder to fulfil my dream of becoming a professional football player. But I must admit, the experiences I am gaining now have helped soothe that disappointment.

 NS: What are the current strengths and weaknesses of the Gibraltar national team?

RC: Our strengths are our work ethic, team work, togetherness, and a will to learn and improve. Our weakness could be our lack of experience at this level, but we are learning all the time.

 NS: How did you feel when Gibraltar became a member of UEFA? Do you see scope for FIFA membership in the long term?

RC: I felt ecstatic. We were finally in after so many years of trying. We all knew football in Gibraltar would never be the same, and that there would be so many improvements and opportunities for everyone involved, especially young people. 

I really hope that gaining UEFA membership will hold up well when applying for FIFA. It would be another massive turning point for Gibraltar’s football future.

NS: You guys face a tough line-up in Group D of the Euro qualifiers over the next few months. Are you confident?

RC: We are aware of how strong our group is and what a daunting task we face. All I can say is that our aim is to improve with each game. We are gaining some amazing experiences and just being given this opportunity is a win for Gibraltar. We’re just over a year into our UEFA membership, and it is amazing what positive changes we have seen already and how we have grown.

NS: Are you nervous about facing Germany? 

RC: Germany… well it doesn’t get any bigger than that. We are facing the world champions. A successful result against them would be to take in the experience and improve as players. We have to be realistic, and keep our concentration and our defensive unit as strong as possible. A similar performance to the one we had against Slovakia would be ideal.

 NS: Are there challenges to playing football in Gibraltar, such as a lack of space or a limited pool of players?

RC: Most players in Gibraltar are amateurs, but recently with our UEFA membership and clubs gaining club-licensing some teams have become semi-professional, which means players receive some financial gain.

All football in Gibraltar is played in one sports ground. Lincoln, the team I represent, travels to Spain on a daily basis due to lack of pitch allocations in Gibraltar. The fact is that everyone knows everyone. However, the diversity of the team, in terms of people’s background and experience, has started to change since UEFA membership. We have seen many players from abroad moving to Gibraltar to play.

 NS: Would you describe Gibraltar as a “football nation”?

RC: Definitely. It is the most followed sport. You get a lot of fanatics in Gibraltar who live and breathe football.

 NS: What are your hopes for the future – both personally and for the team?

RC: The overall aim is to become a respected nation in the football world. It’s all about creating opportunities for our youth. One day, I would love to see the Gibraltar national squad announced, and for every player to be from a professional club. On a personal level, I hope to prolong my career for as long as the Gibraltar national team will have me. I want to make the most of this amazing opportunity.

NS: Finally, how would sum up what it’s like being a footballer on the Rock?

RC: I would day it is a mixture of Latin flair with British organisation, structure and mentality.

Photo: Getty
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Gibraltar - impact of Brexit

Last week our editor took a general overview of some of the scenarios for Gibraltar if Britain were to leave the Euro. This week, as the atmosphere in the British Conservative Party becomes ever more toxic, Michael Castiel, partner at Hassans lawyers on the Rock, goes into more detail (this piece written before the Iain Duncan Smith resignation and subsequent arguments happened).

However unlikely it may prove, the prospect of Britain's withdrawal from the EU sends shivers through Gibraltar's financial services, gaming and tourism industries, which are at the core of Gibraltar’s economy. For, if Britain leaves the EU, Gibraltar goes too, and, should Brexit occur, it is Gibraltar’s relationship with the UK that as in the past, largely will shape Gibraltar's future.

Gibraltar joined the European Union in 1973 as part of the UK. While rights to freedom of services across borders of EU member states apply between Gibraltar and the rest of the EU, because Gibraltar is not a separate member state (and is in fact part of the UK Member State) those rights do not apply between Gibraltar and the UK. Instead a bilateral agreement, formalised almost two decades ago, gives Gibraltar's financial service companies the equivalent EU passporting rights into the UK. Accordingly and pursuant to such agreement, where EU rights in banking, insurance and other financial services are concerned, the UK treats Gibraltar as if it is a separate member state.

This reliance on the special relationship with the UK is recognised by both the Government and the Opposition in Gibraltar, and when the territory (which in this instance as part of the UK electorate) goes to the polls on 23 June, the vote to remain in the EU is likely to be overwhelming. This may have symbolic significance but realistically seems unlikely to influence the outcome. In actual terms, although some non-EU jurisdictions use Gibraltar and its EU passporting rights as a stepping stone into Europe, almost 80% of Gibraltar’s business dealings are with the UK.

But whether or not Britain maintains the 'special relationship' with Gibraltar, if Brexit becomes a reality, other factors will come into play, with the ever-present Spanish Government’s historic sovereignty claim over Gibraltar topping the list.

Recently Spain's caretaker Foreign Minister Jose Maria Margallo went on record that if the UK voted to leave the EU he would immediately 'raise with the UK the question of Gibraltar.' If this was to come about it could take one or more of several different forms, ranging from a complete closure of the border between Spain and Gibraltar, demanding that Gibraltar passport-holders obtain costly visas to visit or transit Spain, imposing more stringent border controls, or a frontier toll on motorists driving into or out of Gibraltar. The latter idea was in fact floated by the Spanish Government three years ago, but dropped when the EU Commission indicated that any such toll would contravene EU law.

Here, again, imponderables come into play, for much will depend on which political parties will form the next Spanish government. A Spanish government headed by the right wing PP party is likely to take a less accommodating attitude towards Gibraltar (the Foreign Minister having recently indicated that in case of Brexit the Spanish Government may opportunistically push once again for a joint sovereignty deal with the UK over Gibraltar) whereas a left of centre coalition will likely adopt a more pragmatic and cooperative relationship with Gibraltar in the event of EU exit.

The most significant changes to Gibraltar's post-Brexit operation as an international finance centre are likely to be in the sphere of tax, and while Gibraltar has always met its obligations in relation to the relevant EU rules and Directives, it has also been slightly uncomfortable with aspects of the EU's moves towards harmonisation of corporate taxes across member states.

Although it was formed as a free market alliance, since its inception fiscal matters have been at the root of the EU, but Gibraltar's 'special relationship' with Britain has allowed considerable latitude in relation to what taxes it imposes or those it doesn't. However, as is the case with other member states, Gibraltar has increasingly found in recent years its fiscal sovereignty eroded and its latitude on tax matters severely curtailed.

As in Britain, Gibraltar has benefitted from several EU Directives introduced to harmonise and support the freedom of establishment, particularly the Parent-Subsidiary Directive which prohibits withholding taxes on cross-border intra-group interest dividend and royalty payments made within the EU.

As a stepping stone for foreign direct investment, should Brexit come about EU subsidiaries could no longer rely on these Directives to allow tax-free dividend or interest payments to their holding companies based in Gibraltar. In the case of the UK, bilateral double tax treaties will no doubt mitigate the impact of the non-application of any tax related Directives. Gibraltar, however, is not currently a party to any bilateral double tax treaties. Accordingly, Gibraltar would either have to seek from the UK the extension of all or some of the UK’s bilateral tax treaties to Gibraltar (subject of course to the agreement by the relevant counterparties) or it would need to negotiate its own network of bilateral double tax treaties with a whole series of EU and non EU Member States. To say the least, neither of these options would be straightforward to implement at short notice and would need the wholehearted support of the British Government

Whilst Gibraltar’s economy is likely to be adversely affected should Brexit occur, there may be some potential benefits. An EU exit would result in fewer regulations and possibly may provide Gibraltar with greater exposure to emerging economies.

From a tax perspective, an EU exit would probably enable Gibraltar to introduce tax rules and incentives that are contrary to EU tax laws and would provide the Gibraltar Government more freedom to adopt competitive tax regimes that may be considered contrary to EU state aid rules. How possible or effective any such strategy would be is doubtful given the OECD driven anti-tax avoidance climate affecting all reputable jurisdictions whether within or outside the EU.

In this as well as other possible change much will hinge on any post-Brexit relationship with the UK - an issue which the Gibraltar Government addressed recently in a paper sent to Westminster's Foreign Affairs Committee. It stressed not only that 'EU membership has been an important factor in the development of Gibraltar’s economy' but also the importance of 'clarity as to the rights the British Government will protect and defend for Gibraltar in the context of its own negotiations.' 

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