SECRET Spanish lobbying has scuppered Gibraltar’s bid to join governing body Rugby Europe, the Olive Press can reveal.Rugby3

Jose Maria Epalza, Rugby Europe’s Spanish treasurer for 24 years, is believed to have turned countries against Gibraltar at a crucial membership vote in June.

Gibraltar needed 200 of the 300 votes at the meeting in Georgian capital Tbilisi, but secured 186, with Gibraltar Rugby Football Union (GRFU) chairman Chad Thomson fingering Epalza.

“Epalza has embarrassed himself within Rugby Europe. A lot of people are saying what he is doing is very wrong,” Thomson told the Olive Press.

“We were told by other nations the evening before that he was lobbying against us. He has cost us membership.

“Membership would mean our athletes could pit themselves against smaller sized nations like Cyprus or Luxembourg. There is no reason they should not be able to do that. It’s very frustrating.”

A June court ruling had overturned a 2013 decision to block Gibraltar’s membership, with an unauthorised speech by Epalza in 2013 against the Rock cited as the cause.

Thomson, who has led Gibraltar’s six-year bid, has received support from Rugby Europe President Octavian Morariu and leading International Olympic Committee (IOC) lawyer Francois Carrard, who believes the GRFU meets all requirements.

The GRFU have now called for a new vote, which will be held at the end of the year.

“I think here was massive political intervention from the Spanish foreign ministry in 2013,” said Thomson.

“We will be going back in December for another vote. We will get there.”