Liam Bryne flies Gibraltar flag after qualifying for semi finals but threatened with disqualification
Following this week's decision by the World Master Athletic's executive to stop Gibraltar athletes from competing as representatives of Gibraltar following political pressure from Spain, Liam Byrne has run in the 800m preliminary round heats of the over 40's category demonstrating his protest at the WMA's decision.
The Gibraltar athlete was the only athlete, out of a team of five runners from Gibraltar who did not withdraw from the WMA Championships after being informed he would be required to run as a "neutral" and not wearing Gibraltar colours.
Liam, who indicated that he would not withdraw earlier this week, continued with his participation. Coming fourth in his heat Liam has qualified for the semi finals which take place this Monday 10th September. He had earlier arrived wearing his Gibraltar vest, although knowing there were instructions from the RFEA calling on the WMA not to allow him to run in Gibraltar colours. The runner eventually run in a black vest with no country name on it. Ironically he was to start the race on the same lane as one of the Spanish runners whom he was to beat in the race.
After the race the Gibraltar athlete, who had indicated that he would somehow "show everyone from where he came" even before arriving in Malaga, as a protest produced a small Gibraltar flag which he showed in public whilst on the track. This led to officials ordering off the track and "threatened with disqualification," according to the Gibraltar athlete.
The athlete gained support from athletes present who photographed themselves with him and the Gibraltar flag.
On Monday morning, he was still awaiting to see whether the threats of disqualification would proceed. Ironically the runner with the fastest time after his was a Spanish runner who had missed qualification into the Semi-final.
The World Masters Athletic Championship is being hosted in Malaga. Only this week instructions from the Spanish authorities threatened to stop the event if Gibraltar athletes were allowed to perform.
In a statement issued this week WMA President Stan Perkins revealed, that "On the morning of 3 September, 2018 the WMA President, Stan Perkins and Secretary, Maria Alfaro, were called to a meeting at their hotel in Malaga with the Secretary General of the RFEA (Spanish Athletics Federation) Jose Luis de Carlos. Also present was Pierre Weiss who is the IAAF Representative on the WMA Council."
"It was outlined that the Spanish Government had contacted the RFEA indicating that the country of Gibraltar was not permitted to participate in the Championship, and that the flag and uniform of that country were not to be displayed nor was there to be any reference to Gibraltar in results or other documents.. It was further indicated that failure to comply with this request could result in the Championship being stopped. The RFEA advised they had no option but to comply with the demand."
The statement further explains, "This news was a complete shock to WMA. WMA’s primary consideration was the more than 8000 athletes and an estimated 5000 additional accompanying persons, officials, volunteers and others that were arriving in Malaga. At the same time WMA was determined that the Gibraltar athletes, who were innocent victims in this matter, had to be given the right to participate in the Championship."
"It was determined that the athletes would be allowed to participate as neutral athletes wearing a white vest in place of their national vest. This decision was advised to the athletes and the Gibraltar Athletics Association by emailed letter that was copied to the RFEA."
"WMA has learnt that the conflict between Spain and Gibraltar has been on going for many years, at least dating back to the 1990’s. Perkins stated that it is lamentable that an event organised for older persons from over 100 world countries was seemingly targeted for political purposes. These Masters athletes come together to compete in athletic endeavour, to share and create friendships and enjoy an active and healthy lifestyle. The athletes are marvellous role models who undertake at their own cost all travel, accommodation and living expenses, and contribute significantly to the economy of the host city, region and country."
Although unrelated, since the announcement Stan Perkins the present President of the WMA at the centre of the controversy has seen his tenure end. Margit Jungmann was announced as the new president once the Championships are over following an election of the WMA. Jungmann has already pronounced herself on the participation of small countries. In comments on the official website asked on her position on how to increase the global inclusion of athletes from smaller countries, and increase the awareness of the WMA she responded, "The situation is so different in the different parts of the world. There is not one solution for that. The representatives of the regions and the IAAF affiliates must be with WMA to make progress on that. I am glad to have already good contacts to a lot of affiliates."
Since the decision by the WMA was made public IAAF President Seb Coe issued his support for Gibraltar athletes through social media. Local politicians have also condemned Spain's stance against Gibraltar athletes whilst UK media coverage has also highlighted the incident.
Liam's participation in the 800m heats was run "in protest" by the athlete who prior to departing stated that he "disagreed with those who had withdrawn" and would be running in protest and not let the "political interference stop him running in something he had been training all summer for."