How Brexit will affect football

Football, considered Britain’s national sport, will face significant consequences, especially when it comes to free movement of European players and their participation in English football


England’s players arrive for a training session in Chantilly on Thursday during the Euro 2016 football tournament. Photo: AFP
England’s players arrive for a training session in Chantilly on Thursday during the Euro 2016 football tournament. Photo: AFP

New Delhi: It’s official. The United Kingdom, or well, just England and Wales, opted to end their 43-year association with the European Union (EU), and voted for Brexit in Thursday’s referendum. The ‘Leave’ camp edged out ‘Remain’ by 4 percentage points, as confirmed by Friday’s results, with the sterling taking a pounding, quite literally.

Theoretically, the results of a referendum aren’t legally binding, and must be put to vote on the floor of Westminster. But assuming that prime minister David Cameron does invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty to notify the EU about its intention to leave the Single Market bloc and a negotiated withdrawal does take place, football, considered Britain’s national sport, pastime and obsession, will face significant consequences.

No wonder Richard Scudamore, the chief executive of the Premier League, reaffirmed his support of the Remain campaign over the last weekend. Last October, in a speech, Scudamore said, “I believe we, in the UK, must be in Europe from a business perspective. I believe in the free movement of goods, but when it comes to services, we must be entitled, especially in the audio-visual world, to territorialism.”

Brexit could change all of that, especially when it comes to free movement of European players (read: immigration) and their participation in English football. In other words, unlike players from non-EU countries (like South American countries, African nations or Asian countries), players from EU member states do not need work permits to play and reside in Britain. In the case of a player with a non-EU passport, to qualify for a work permit, he should have played in 75% of his national side’s competitive games over two years. This could significantly affect the way clubs access the European player market once Brexit kicks in for real, especially accessing cheaper players from countries like France, Spain or Portugal, as some clubs have done over the last few years. Unless, of course they don’t mind going through the hassles of the rather complex work permit process.

Also Read: Britain votes for Brexit in historic rupture of postwar order

Should the new, post-Brexit rules come in, it could affect the traffic of younger players into England, the many starlets snapped up by various English clubs from across Europe. In other words, a 16-year-old footballing sensation from, say, Mallorca in Spain might have to come up with reasons other than football to qualify for a visa. This could lead to an export of younger, quality footballing talent to other countries like Spain, Germany or even Italy.

In May last year, the British government tightened work permit rules, essentially to restrict the number of international footballers playing their trade in Britain. According to the new rules, as reported by the BBC, “A player from a top-10 nation only has to have played in 30% of their games in the two years prior to the date of application to be granted a work permit. A player from a nation ranked 11-20 must have played in 45% of international games. That percentage rises to 60% for the next 10 countries, then 75% for nations ranked 31-50. A vote to leave the EU would mean that players from the 27 countries still in the union would need to meet these criteria.” The last season (2015-16) saw 432 players from the 28 EU member states (including Britain) registered to play in the Premier League.

This could also mean that the highly competitive or the so-called “best league in the world” would no longer be in a position to attract, if not, access some of the best European footballing talent. This is as it stands, and could be subject to change, should Britain later opt in to stay in the larger Single Market bloc like Norway or Switzerland.

Brexit’s other, significant impact on British football would see clubs being forced to look inwards, and develop home-grown players which will eventually benefit English football in the long run. And from a business point of view, should these new rules kick in, clubs would demand an even heavier price for home-grown talent, in addition to what is informally known as the “England premium” in football circles, given their high demand. From the club point of view, they’d be reluctant to sell some of their best home-grown players, both domestically and abroad. Immediately, though, brace yourselves for an interesting transfer market, largely thanks to the pound’s free fall, which in turn could spike transfer prices.

All of this is, of course, based on the assumption that Brexit will be implemented as promised. However, in the event of that not happening, where Britain remains a part of the larger EEA bloc, these rules could be relaxed or may not get implemented. Such is football and particularly Britain’s clout.

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