It was a sporting occasion for children that organisers boasted would ‘unite nations’.

More than 170 teams of 11-year-olds from 21 countries travelled to Spain for the football tournament.

But it seems the Spanish hosts couldn’t stop politics getting in the way of children’s sport – specifically their long-standing grievance with Britain over Gibraltar.

The youngsters were also stopped from taking part in the opening ceremony and were booed.

The Gibraltar Football Association is so angry that it is lodging a formal complaint with the European governing body, UEFA.

The team, comprised of the children of British expats and military families, was invited to the Costa Blanca Cup along with teams from countries including England, Italy, America and India.

The problems started when the teams began to take part in an Olympic-style parade through the streets of Benidorm.

Each group was to walk behind the flag of their country to a large stage where one member would go up with the flag to be formally welcomed.

First, organisers told the Gibraltar coaches that they had lost their flag.

However, a coach found a Gibraltar flag and borrowed a pole to raise it up for the parade. But when the team was announced, the Spanish spectators jeered.

Stewards then prevented the flag being placed in the town’s open-air theatre along with those of the 20 other nations taking part in the tournament.

The coach in charge of the Gibraltar team said the children had taken an eight-hour coach ride to attend the tournament.

Steven Head, 44, of Lincoln Football Club, based on the Rock, said: ‘The children felt terrible about it, they were only there to play football. There’s no place for that kind of politics at a children’s tournament.

‘They [organisers] were happy to take our money and entrance fee and so to then treat us the way they did was a big disgrace.’

Despite the hostile reception, the Gibraltar team reached the quarter finals of the tournament that was held between July 10 and 16.

The Spanish have challenged British sovereignty over Gibraltar for 300 years. ‘The Rock’ has been a key strategic outpost at the mouth of the Mediterranean since it was ceded by Spain to Britain under the 1713 Treaty of Utrecht. Gibraltar politician Steven Linares said: ‘The treatment of our young sportsmen is appalling. It is obvious that there are people in Spain who still have much to learn about democracy and about mutual respect.’

A Foreign Office spokesman said: ‘Obviously we are deeply concerned by the actions of some of the individuals towards children shown in the video footage.
‘Gibraltarian teams who are guests in another country should be treated with the same respect shown to other teams, and the Gibraltar flag should be treated with equal respect.’