UEFA, the governing body of European soccer, voted here Friday at its annual congress to accept Gibraltar as a full member, making its national team and professional clubs eligible for international competition.
Gibraltar had been excluded on the basis of UEFA's 2001 rule restricting membership to jurisdictions recognized as states by the United Nations.
In August 2011, the Court of Arbitration for Sport said UEFA must admit the British Crown Colony at the tip of the Iberian peninsula, noting that Gibraltar initially applied for membership in 1997, four years before the restrictive rule was adopted.
The Swiss-based court also pointed out that UEFA already included several non-state members: Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the Faroe Islands.
Spain, which claims sovereignty over Gibraltar, opposed the Rock's bid to become UEFA's 54th member.
Gibraltar and Spain will be kept apart in competition, UEFA said Friday.
"We always try to set things up accordingly and to pre-empt these situations," UEFA president Michel Platini said following the congress in London.
The Gibraltar Football Association plans to file the necessary paperwork for the Gibraltarian squad to take part in the 2016 Eurocup tourney.
The admission of Gibraltar "in no way" implies the taking of a position on the dispute between Spain and Britain over the Rock, UEFA No. 2 Gianni Infantino told Efe.
"UEFA is a sporting body that keeps itself entirely outside of politics and of these kinds of disputes," he said, adding that a desire to avoid such situations is precisely why the organization adopted the 2001 rule.
"This is a momentous moment for us," GFA chief Gareth Latin told the UEFA congress. "It means we can now begin the next chapter of Gibraltar football." EFE