Brexit and the Impact on British Sport


Following Britain’s decision to leave the European Union last week, Sport Editor, Jack Pethick, looks into the potential impact the exit will have on British Sport.

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 European Union’s freedom of movement allows sportsmen and women from the EU to come and play 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, arguably the UK’s biggest sporting symbol. According to a recent article by The Telegraph, 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.

This statistic would include players such as Dimitri Payet, N’Golo Kante and Anthony Martial, who have been some of the most exciting players in the Premier League within the last year. In addition, 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.

Many officials since the Brexit vote, have now suggested that Britain’s irreversible decision to leave the EU could now affect the competitiveness and attractive nature the Premier League currently possesses over other European Leagues, and will also certainly make it much harder for clubs to acquire top players as prices for players will rise to a premium. However, as has been the case with much of the Brexit debate, a lot of guesswork is involved in trying to predict how exactly the decision will impact the future of British football particularly.

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 was the case with the Brexit debate, there are some who believe that the Leave vote will enhance the prospects of English football and of young homegrown talent. Introducing quotas for English footballers has been a public desire of current FA Chairmen Greg Dyke, but a dream that’s made virtually impossible by current EU law. Again this is an argument that is based on guesswork, but certainly one that many England fans would have wanted to hear following England’s crash out of Euro 2016.

However, is not just football that will feel the affects of the Brexit vote. 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.

One need only but to look at both current and previous England cricket and rugby teams over the last few decades or so to see how this has benefitted England. The likes of Kevin Pietersen, Andrew Strauss and Gary Balance were al South African born yet were able to represent England. Likewise 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.

The Brexit vote will shortly render the Kolpak agreement void, meaning future imports from such countries will count as foreign players and potentially harm both the breadth of choice and quality that future national teams can select from. Again arguments can be put forward that this will encourage the development of homegrown players

Finally, some would strongly contest that London is perhaps the Sporting Capital of Europe. In recent years it has been 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.”

Overall then, the impact that the Brexit vote could place on British Sport is unknown, however, it appears that like with the impact the Brexit vote could have on Britain as a whole, it will either severely weaken or strengthen the pulling power that British Sport currently possesses.


Jack Pethick. Sport Editor 2014-2016. Third-Year History student. Mainly write for the Sport section but dabble in writing News and Features. General Armchair pundit and lover of all things Sport. #WouldDoABetterJobThanCarragher

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