Brexit, the controversial and prolonged withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union, has had a vast impact on the political atmosphere and economic climate in Britain, as well as on trade, security and education, to name but a few important sectors. However, the numerous knock-on effects from Brexit will also impact the activities enjoyed by many in their everyday lives: notably, the participation in, and viewing of, sports. Travel costs to see international sporting fixtures will rise considerably due to the loss of freedom of movement through countries in the EU from the UK, and it will be harder and more expensive for Britain to host major sporting events. So much emphasis is placed on the consequences of Article 50 being invoked for the city of London, and the financial hub there, that the effect on British sport is often overlooked.
Access to sport funding for British organisations is likely to rise in price due to the tariffs imposed on imports from the post-Brexit EU, which will raise the cost of goods, thus potentially putting off members of the community from partaking in certain physical activities due to the increase in expenditure in order to simply purchase the necessary equipment. This puts the financially disadvantaged in a position where they may be forced to sacrifice taking up certain sporting pursuits purely due to the cost of the resources, which will have a knock-on effect on health and wellbeing. On a larger scale, hosting major sporting events in Britain is set to be a far more difficult, expensive and therefore less attractive task, post-Brexit. Pertinent reasons for this include the participation in such events requiring the crossing of borders for foreign competitors – this will be harder due to the loss of free movement into and out of the UK. Also, the number of workers employed at tournaments and fixtures could witness a drop as it becomes harder for non-UK EU nationals to obtain working rights in Britain. Evidently, the effects of this extreme political shift have a flagrant knock-on-effect for the British sporting sphere, yet arguably there is one sport which will feel the pressure to the greatest extent.
Brexit and British Football
In the 2015-2016 season, the English Premier League consisted of just 33.2% players of English origin. Brexit means that the proportion of foreign players who makes up such a high proportion of the league could change dramatically, thus leading to a decrease in the number of talented players in the league born externally to the UK. Those with an EU passport currently can play here for free, yet with the demise of this international grouping and Britain’s departure from the free movement of labour, certain players will lose their right to automatically live and work in the UK. In order to have the right to play in Britain, these players will have to meet strict Home Office criteria: notably they must be suitable internationals for ‘leading nations’. 400 footballers currently playing in the UK, including 100 in the Premier League, are estimated to not meet these criteria, thus losing their right to represent English teams. The dramatic and vastly expensive knock-on-effect will be felt by all in this sporting league, since these players will have to be replaced by internationals who canin fact fulfil these requirements.
Likewise, since the value of the pound has fallen by an estimated 12% since May 2016, the cost of transfers and acquiring talented new footballers from countries external to the UK will rise too, putting increasing financial pressure on an already competitive market. A key example of this already having taken place almost three years ago is in the case of West Ham’s €40m offer to buy Marseille’s Michy Batshuayi in 2016, a transfer which went up in value by €3m in the space of merely six days. Additionally, the time span for gaining these new players is set to increase, due to work permit-induced delays, thus putting British teams at a disadvantage compared to European clubs when bidding for new players. Moreover, the vast influx of teenager players from the European Union, previously acknowledged as ‘homegrown’ players, could come to an end. These players had to be registered to any club affiliated to the Football Association for a period of three seasons prior to their 21stbirthday, but in the post-Brexit climate, British clubs may have to solely sign foreign players over the age of 18 due to this change in FIFA regulations. Arguably, this is a positive outcome for up-and-coming British players, who face a greatly diminished extent of competition from young European players, yet equally, it also reduces the overall talent pool from which the best footballers can be rightfully selected.
Overall, the effect of Brexit on British sports, especially football, must not be underestimated. Several changes have already been noted in the various professional sporting leagues: a number which is set to augment dramatically after Britain’s official departure from the EU, scheduled for 29 March 2019. Tottenham boss Mauricio Pochettino famously claimed that Brexit was part of the reason that Tottenham gained no new players in the summer window of 2018. With numerous visible consequences for the sport already prominent, it is fair to say that Brexit has had, and will certainly continue to have, a profound impact on British sport.