As the seemingly never-ending discussions between the Government and Brussels continue apace over Brexit, the headlines all revolve around just a few key parts of the negotiations. Does the UK remain in a ‘Customs Union?’ The ‘hard border’ question surrounding Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland or a ‘No deal Brexit’.
Do you ever see or hear much about how Brexit might impact on sport and in particular the UK’s most popular sport, football?
Probably not much, but it has been discussed.
Football is worth about £12bn in receipts to HM Treasury, let alone the cultural and health impact it has on British society. The Football Association, Premier League and EFL are talking about this and discussions are ongoing with the Government through the Department of Culture, Media & Sport.
One of the key elements of being a member state of the EU is that enshrined in its constitution is ‘the free movement of labour between member nations.’ That has allowed professional football players from all over the EU to ply their trade within it for whoever.
Gianfranco Zola, Marcel Desailly, Eric Cantona, Jurgen Klinsmann, Thierry Henry and Dennis Bergkamp are just a few of many EU citizens that have played in the Premier League over the last 25 years – so does Brexit threaten the UK’s ability to attract the best players in the future and the prestige of the Premier League?
Five months out from the date at which the UK leaves the EU, no politician, civil servant, administrator or bureaucrat will answer that question directly.
But Sky Sports News has been told that whatever ‘Brexit’ the UK eventually leaves the EU with, the professional end of the game will remain largely unaffected.
Top sports lawyer Paul Shapiro said: “The process is ongoing right now between Government and football’s stakeholders.
“I don’t think they (Government) will put in a regime that will stop the Premier League clubs signing top international stars nor is it in their interests to jeopardise the Premier League’s position as the world’s best league. I don’t think supporters have anything to fear or worry about.”
A number of industries in the UK such as medicine, finance and aviation have been lobbying the Government for ‘Special Status’ post Brexit – the premise being protection against any negative impact of Brexit. So could the ‘Football Industry’ make a case for Special Status?
The Sports Minister Tracey Crouch MP admitted that would be unlikely.
She told Sky Sports News: “It’s not being considered as a unique or special situation. Sport is not one of the most heavily impacted briefs.
“However football does provide an enormous boost to the Treasury and provides a lot of taxes.
“We recognise that football has a huge impact on income, but also at grassroots level. We use football and sport as a means to tackle many problems and we mustn’t forget that.
“Ultimately it’s an issue for the football authorities and my colleagues at the Home Office, it’s (football) not being considered as a unique or special situation. The EU exit is about looking at skills required and football is also having a look. It is not just about football, there are lots of global sports stars.”
In response to the ‘Leave’ vote in 2016, the Premier League said: “The Premier League is a hugely successful sporting competition that has strong domestic and global appeal.
“This will continue to be the case regardless of the referendum result. Given the uncertain nature of what the political and regulatory landscape might be following the ‘Leave’ vote, there is little point second-guessing the implications until there is greater clarity. Clearly, we will continue to work with government and other bodies whatever the outcome of any process.”
According to Shapiro, the transfer window is set to stay post-Brexit with the great and good from Europe continuing to be attracted by the immense pulling power of the Premier League and also that of the EFL.
But one area of change for clubs may well be the signing of U18’s from other EU nations.
Currently, all EU nations and those signed up to the EEA (European Economic Area) are exempt from a FIFA Rule which prevents the transfer of U18’s. Brexit will see English, Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish clubs lose this exemption unless the Westminster Government becomes a member of the EEA or signs a bilateral agreement with the EU on the free movement of workers.
Premier League clubs are bound by rules which insist on eight players out of the 25-man squads to be classed as ‘homegrown.’ Talent acquisition of players such as Cesc Fabregas and Paul Pogba by Arsenal and Manchester United respectively when they were young has meant they were classed as ‘homegrown’ players.
Post-Brexit, the Home Office could resort to a system similar to that applied to non-EU nationals for work permits or visas. It is a points-based system. Once a player has received a Governing Body Endorsement (GBE), FIFA World rankings are applied to a country over a two-year period and a player will have to have played in a minimum percentage of that country’s matches during that period. The higher ranking the country is given by FIFA, the fewer matches a player has to play to qualify for to receive a work permit in the UK.
The table below highlights it in it’s simplest form:
Fifa Ranking 1-10: 30% of matches and above
Fifa Ranking 11-20: 45% of matches and above
Fifa Ranking 21-30: 60% of matches and above
Fifa Ranking 31-50: 75% of matches and above
For players who fall outside the criteria, there is a review process and players have been employed by Premier League.
Although there is no clear post-Brexit policy on ‘the right to work’ which does include footballers, sources close to the Government have said that Prime Minister Theresa May is not in favour of any points-based system for EU or EEA workers.
The full detail of Brexit is yet unclear – however Government recognition of football’s economic and social impact through the grassroots suggests the post-Brexit landscape will look very similar to today’s.
There is another argument where restrictions on the number of footballers from the EU allowed to work in the UK could be a good boost for homegrown English, Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish players and as they may be given greater chances of first-team football. That in turn feeds more players who are experienced at the highest level to play international football. Mind you, given England’s recent showing at the World Cup and their victory in Spain on Monday, things are looking healthy aren’t they…?
Analysis by Geraint Hughes, skysports