The Brexit Effect – What Could Leaving the European Union Mean For UK Sport?

On 23 June 2016, the UK government held a referendum, in which it asked members of the public whether or not they were in favour of what became known as “Brexit” – i.e. whether we should leave the European Union. More than 30 million people voted and 52 percent of them stated that they were in favour of doing so.

The government has said that, in light of the result, it will invoke Article 50, the clause in the Lisbon Treaty which gives a leaving member and the E.U. two years to agree the terms under which that member will depart. So what could this decision mean for sport within the United Kingdom – and which sporting activities are likely to be most affected?

The Football Transfer Market – How Brexit Could Affect the Beautiful Game

Last month, Sports Interactive announced that the 2017 edition of its Football Manager game would feature Brexit-based scenarios, mimicking things that could happen as a result of the decision.

“We usually try and keep politics out of the game because nobody wants it rammed down their throat,” Miles Jacobson, the company’s studio director, told The Telegraph, “but we were left with an interesting situation this year when the people of Britain voted to leave the EU and it wouldn’t have felt right to leave that out.”

At present, the extent to which the government’s move will cause difficulties for British football clubs isn’t known, as the terms on which the United Kingdom will leave the EU have yet to be decided. Sports Interactive, however, researched the most likely outcomes and incorporated aspects from them into the game. The results of the company’s hard work clearly show the types of issues that clubs could face within the transfer market as a result of the decision.

Should the United Kingdom opt for what’s known as a “Soft Brexit”, and keep access to the European single market, it’s possible that European nationals would still be granted free movement. In this scenario, very little would change within the transfer market.

However, if it opts for a “Hard Brexit”, players from EU countries will require the same type of permits currently needed by non-EU players transferring to clubs in the UK. Obtaining this type of permit is harder and more time-consuming.

“There had been a claim during the campaign that 200 players at top flight clubs in the UK wouldn’t get work permits under the current football system if we left the EU. I worked it out to be closer to 150, but it included the likes of France’s N’Golo Kante and Dimitri Payet,” he told the Guardian.

Rugby, Cricket and More – Other Major UK Sports Facing Possible Transfer Issues

Footballers aren’t the only sporting stars likely to be affected by changes to the rules following the UK’s exit from the EU either. Our rugby and cricket teams could also miss out on the chance to bring in additional players from overseas, for example.

Leaving the EU will, according to the Telegraph, see an end to the Cotonou Agreement and the Kolpak Ruling (2003), which has enabled players from the Africa, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States (ACP), such as cricket’s Kevin Pietersen and rugby union’s Manu Tuilagi, to enjoy the same rights as their EU counterparts.

Some people, of course, will see a reduction in the number of overseas players in UK sports clubs as a positive thing, as it could give more home-grown players the chance to progress further and display their talents to wider audiences. It’s also possible that, even if politicians opt for a “Hard Brexit”, new regulations will be put into place, allowing Europe’s sportsmen and women to enter the United Kingdom more easily.

Tournaments and Leagues – The Complexities of Competing Internationally Post-Brexit

Many sports fans will be wondering whether or not their favourite players will still be able to compete for trophies in international leagues and tournaments. Decisions are likely to be made on a competition by competition basis, but the message so far is not to worry.

For those concerned about the home nations’ eligibility for the UEFA European Championship, for example, it’s worth knowing that UEFA’s members do include non-EU nations, such as Russia, Israel and Switzerland. Similarly, teams from non-EU countries already compete in the Europa League and Champions League competitions.

However, with so much to be decided, it’s an unsettling time for those involved in UK sport. What’s more, should any of the other home nations decide to break their links with England and retain their own memberships of the EU, things could become even more complicated.

Do you think Brexit will enhance or damage sport in the United Kingdom? Leave a comment and let us know.