One of the many issues that escaped serious attention during the recent EU referendum debate and the subsequent discussions concerning the impact of the decision to leave the EU has been an exploration of the implications of BREXIT on British sport. Amidst the heated debate on economics, free-trade and migration has been a complete failure to recognise that the EU has long been involved with sport and that a fair chunk of its legislation impacts on the conduct, operation and media coverage of sport.
Article 50 of the Treaty on the EU establishes the procedures for a member state to withdraw from the EU. Once that is invoked, Britain will have a two-year window in which to negotiate a new treaty to replace the terms of EU membership.
According to Paul Shapiro, an associate at law firm Charles Russell Speechlys, that means the real effects could take some time to filter through, although he predicts a significant impact on various issues from the increased cost of transfers.
“While the focus of the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union is likely to be on the impact on the City and migration, the impact on the sports world could be significant,” said Shapiro.
“However, we will not know how significant this will be until we have a clearer idea of the terms the UK negotiates for its continued relationship with the EU. If the agreement with the EU includes broad free movement obligations, such as those currently in place with EEA members, the current position regarding the movement of players between the continent and the UK will most likely continue.
If the United Kingdom chooses not to abide by the EU’s freedom of movement principle then European football signings will require work permits which are linked to a player’s international appearances. Using such criteria the Premier League would have been deprived of the skill, industry and entertainment offered last season by the likes of Dimitri Payet and N’Golo Kante. The pound’s plunging value will make all prospective signings from Europe as well as wages paid to current European players much more expensive, despite the excessive hand-outs from the broadcasting deal negotiated by the Premier League.
In terms of cricket those playing the first class game as with Kolpak status or on European passports have their futures clouded in uncertainty. The Kolpak ruling will similarly impact on Rugby Union, more especially on players of South African and Pacific Island origin. However, the rugby authorities in the United in the Kingdom have confirmed they will wait until the terms of Britain’s exit from the European Union are agreed before looking at the regulations governing overseas players. Currently, the ‘foreign player’ rule does not apply to those from other EU countries or nations like South Africa, Fiji, Samoa and Tonga, who have an association agreement with the EU that allows their citizens the same freedom of work and movement as those who are from the member states. The current rule in the Premiership is that a club may have no more than two foreign players in a match day 23: if the EU exit negotiations mean that the current freedom of movement lapses, European and Kolpak players will be included in that tally and will only be granted a work permit if they have played in a Test match in the previous 15 months.
As British sport continues to evolve rapidly, there is little doubt that the vote to leave the EU could have very dramatic implications for many supporters and arm-chair fans of British sport