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Stadium ‘only become feasible’ with commercial elements, GFA says

Image via GFA

The Gibraltar FA said building the National Stadium was vital to ensure Gibraltar could play its home matches on the Rock, adding the commercial aspects of the wider scheme presented last week were key to making project feasible.

The project has become embroiled in political controversy after news that the Gibraltar Savings Bank would invest in the region of £100m in developing the stadium and ancillary residential, commercial and hotel elements.

For the Gibraltar Government, the investment is safe and will generate economic activity while creating an asset of value not just to the football community and fans, but to Gibraltar’s tourism product and the community as a whole.

But the Opposition has raised concerns about the involvement of the bank and the scale of the plan.

For the GFA, having a stadium that meets minimum UEFA criteria is vital to ensure Gibraltar can play at home.

“Not meeting the criteria would mean not being able to play in Gibraltar again,” said Ivan Robba, the GFA’s General Secretary.

“This would have a massive, detrimental effect on Gibraltar Football and would be a significant missed opportunity for Gibraltar, generally.”

“We are coming up to our 10th UEFA anniversary, out of which six years have seen our international matches played abroad.”

“We have been engaged in talks regarding a new stadium since our admission into UEFA.”

“We lost credibility with both UEFA and FIFA since we could not come up with a solid project due to the financial challenges which the restrictions on ‘type of use’ of the plot imposed on the project, and UEFA were rightly not willing to give us further extensions to play in the current facility.”

“This opportunity seems like it is, by far, the best chance we have ever had of achieving our very important objective, which is to come back home.”

The default minimum requirement for a UEFA Category 4 stadium is a capacity of 8,000, although UEFA has allowed for small associations to have a smaller capacity of 4,700.

But the GFA said the designs seek to maximise commercial activity within the site as a whole and the footprint would remain the same irrespective of seating capacity, with the cost differential in that respect being minimal.

“The benefit to having 8,000 seats is that we have the ability to attract larger crowds when we play the bigger nations, or even host an event,” Mr Robba said.

UEFA and FIFA provide funds to associations for investment and project funding, but the GFA has used everything available to it at this stage.

“The Gibraltar FA has used its full infrastructure funding allocations to purchase the Victoria Stadium,” Mr Robba said.

“Eligibility for investment/project funding arises every four years through the UEFA Hattrick and FIFA Forward programmes. We have used up all cycles to date.”

He added: “The Gibraltar FA is not expected to use UEFA/FIFA funds for the construction of the project as the financial model here is that the value of the commercial areas exceeds the cost of build.”

“UEFA/FIFA funds will of course be used for the maintenance and upkeep of the new stadium, and more importantly, for future football infrastructure developments around Gibraltar, as was the case with Lathbury and Europa Point Sports complex.”

To make the project viable, the GFA has sought alternative means of funding.

That led to the decision to include commercial aspects attached to the stadium itself, and to the arrangement with the Savings Bank.

“After carrying out our own feasibility study for a stadium with UEFA, a year and a half ago, on a different scheme which included no significant commercial areas, we realised that the stadium project only becomes feasible with the inclusion of ‘revenue generating’ commercial areas,” Mr Robba said.

“These areas make the project interesting for investment.”

Mr Robba said the Gibraltar FA will not be directly involved in the construction of the complex.

Its involvement will be limited to supervising the pitch, the stands, and the areas necessary to meet the UEFA Category 4 standard. In this regard, the Gibraltar FA will engage professionals to supervise where necessary.

Instead, the Gibraltar Savings Bank will take ownership of the Gibraltar Football Association National Stadium Limited - the company that owns the Victoria Stadium - during the course of the construction period.

“The ownership will then be transferred back to the Gibraltar FA, whilst there will be an agreement in place for [the Gibraltar Government] to gain the underlease for the commercial and residential areas of the complex,” Mr Robba said.

“The Gibraltar FA will therefore only manage the areas segregated as ‘the footballing facilities’ of the complex going forward.”

“Essentially, the GFA is leasing a large part of the footprint to [the Gibraltar Government] for commercial purposes, in return for the build of the much-needed new football infrastructure.”

The GFA is clear that once the stadium is built, the capacity will be used.

Until now, teams that have played here - both international teams and club teams - are aware of the size of the Victoria Stadium and their ticketing requests been proportionate to these limitations.

“However, when Gibraltar was playing in Faro, we received ticket requests in the thousands. Against Germany and Scotland, to highlight a couple, we saw crowds in excess of 8,000 and 13,000 each, respectively,” Mr Robba said.

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