SPANISH officials have sparked outrage in Gibraltar after banning athletes from the Rock from taking part in a major competition under their own flag.
Organisers of the World Master Athletics (WMA) Championships in Malaga imposed the ban after pressure from the Spanish government, which said it does not recognise the British territory as a separate country.
Officials in Madrid threatened to stop the whole competition from taking place if any Gibraltarian athletes tried to compete wearing their national kit.
Four out of the five-strong Gibraltar team have now chosen to boycott the event rather than take up the only other option of competing as “neutrals”.
The move by the Spanish government has been condemned by competition organisers International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) President Seb Coe, as well as the Gibraltarian government.
Gibraltar's Minister for Sport, Steven Linares, likened Madrid’s actions to those of Francisco Franco’s fascist regime which controlled the country for nearly 40 years.
Mr Linares said: ”The decision of the Spanish Government, through its Consejo General de Deportes, to prevent Gibraltarian athletes from competing in a race in Malaga in our colours is a perverse vestige of a past of which modern Spain cannot be proud.
“These are vetoes against our people which hark back to the time of the Spanish dictatorship, and they belong in that time.
“We cannot build a strong relationship with our neighbours in this way. We must see nonsense of this sort relegated to history, where it belongs.
“Gibraltar sportspeople can rely on the full support of their Government and of their fellow Gibraltarians."