Brexit wins: How the Premier League and other sports will be adversely affected
Just about every area of British public life will be affected by the Leave vote. And sport in the United Kingdom will be no exception.
The freedom of movement principle allows sportsmen and women from the EU to ply their trade in the UK without needing a work permit that the majority of non-EU citizens require. This is particularly significant in relation to English football. Using the Home Office’s current criteria for non-EU players, which require players to have played in a certain percentage of their national team’s matches, more than 100 Premier League players would have failed to have gained a work permit.
That would include players such as Dimitri Payet, N’Golo Kante and Anthony Martial, none of whom were established internationals when they joined the Premier League last summer. South American footballers such as Diego Costa and Philippe Coutinho have also been able to bypass the work permit process by gaining European citizenship before coming to England.
Before the Brexit result was known, leading football agent Jonathan Barnett told The Daily Telegraph that a vote for Brexit would compromise the competitiveness of the Premier League. “It is important that if we want the best league in the world then we remain in the EU,” He said. Hence, it was little surprise that Richard Scudamore, the Premier League executive chairman together will all 20 Premier League clubs, came out in favour of Remain.
As with much else in the Brexit debate, a lot of guesswork is involved in extrapolating the range and depth of the potential changes. All we know for certain is that the landscape will be different.
“What will happen is that all our sporting bodies will have to sit down, look at all their rules and decide whether to emulate what they already have in relation to European nationals, i.e. Give them preferential treatment, or do we fit the European nationals into the rules we currently have in the UK or do we want to write completely new rules?” Maria Patsalos, a Sports Immigration Partner at Mishcon de Reya LLP, said. “It is unlikely in football for instance that European nationals will have the same freedom as they have now if Britain votes to leave the EU.”
In that scenario, Premier League clubs could be forced to pay more as Dr Babatunde Buraimo, a senior lecturer in sports economics at the University of Liverpool, argues. “Clubs will be limited to hiring higher-calibre players from highly Fifa-ranked EU countries,” he said. “If the Premier League is limited to these players, this will increase the values, in terms of transfer fees and wages, of acquiring proven and established EU players. Missing out on rising talent [such as Kante] will be one of the drawbacks.”
However, as Patsalos makes clear, it is highly unlikely those European players who are currently here, or who were signed during the negotiation period, will be forced to leave. “Historically the Home Office does not generally impose legislation retrospectively,” Patsalos said.
Yet there are some who believe that a Leave vote will enhance English football by curbing the number of foreign footballers in the top leagues. Introducing quotas for English footballers has long been a dream of various FA chairmen, but made impossible by EU law. “Whether they will be able to put that in place in the Premier League is probably unlikely but there is no reason why post Brexit they could not put nationality restrictions in say the FA Cup,” Daniel Geey, a partner at sports law firm Sheridans, said.
It is not just football that will be affected. Under the terms of the Cotonou Agreement and the Kolpak Ruling in 2003, sportsmen from Africa, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States (ACP) enjoy the same rights as EU players. This particularly applies to cricket and rugby union, where many players from South Africa, Caribbean and the Pacific Islands have come to play in the English domestic leagues.
Several have gone to represent England. For 11 years between 2004 and 2015 encompassing 139 Tests, England started a match with a South African-born player in their team such as Andrew Strauss and Kevin Pietersen. The English rugby union team, too, has come to rely upon a large percentage of foreign-born players, from Mike Catt through to Manu Tuilagi.
Leaving the EU will render the Kolpak agreement void meaning future imports from such countries will count as foreign players. Again arguments can be put forward that this will encourage the development of homegrown players, but Christian Abt, a director at the Essentially sports management group, believes that the presence of more than 70 Kolpak players has enhanced the Premiership.
“The Premiership will suffer as a result because it has such a cosmopolitan flavour to it which makes it such attractive to viewers and sponsors,” Abt said. “As a product the best model is having international players playing alongside local and homegrown players.”
And what of London’s status as the sporting capital of Europe, if not the world? It is the go-to destination for major sporting championships and for American sports looking to expand their audience. Although the NFL declined to comment, Patsalos believes Brexit will endanger the current London international series of games. “The way the NFL view it is that London is a gateway to Europe,” Patsalos said. “My view is that (because) we pull out of Europe then they will reconsider that deal.”
Four players who would not qualify under the FA’s criteria for non-EU players
Signed alongside Eric Djemba-Djemba, David Bellion and Kleberson in the summer of 2003, Ronaldo had only just made his debut for Portugal as an 18-year-old.
Although Henry had broken through into the French national team by the time he joined Arsenal from Juventus in 1999, he had not played enough games to have qualified for a work permit.
Again his sporadic appearances for France would have precluded another dose of Gallic flair entering the Premier League.
The latest example of the Premier League’s ability to create stars having been transformed from a bit-part player into France’s leading player at the European Championships.