The Brexit Impact on British Sport – Opportunity or Catastrophe?

A lot of jokes have been made about England’s well choreographed exit from Europe coinciding with their exit from the Euros, but football is in fact the sport most likely to suffer due to the referendum result.

Football has the greatest number of non- British athletes participating in its competitions. In fact more than 300 EU players are earning a living in England’s top four League divisions.

Many clubs could find that they will lose key personnel. Manchester United for example would lose Anthony Martial. EPL Champions Leicester City would lose N’Golo Kante. Here are just two examples of clubs who would have to release players who have a key part to play. The reason being they currently don’t meet the required number of International caps required to meet the criteria for non-EU players to be granted a visa to play in the UK.

Scottish football has been in a bad way for a number of years and the Euros must have been excruciating as they watched all of their celtic neighbours participating. The only relief would have come when England lost to Iceland. That would have been worth staying at home for!

However the Brexit vote to leave could have a decimating effect on Scottish football, as not one of the 53 non-EU players playing in the Scottish Premier League would meet the visa requirements to remain playing in this league.

Some would say this will open the door for more talented home-grown English and Scottish players to be given an opportunity. It also opens the door for those young Australian players who have dual citizenship.Although clubs in Europe are now becoming cautious when investing in young Australian talent as rather than toughing it out in bigger talent pools and forcing their way into the first team, or even going down a division to gain game time, many young players are opting to return to Australia and a secure place in the first team of an A-League club on better money. Their hope being that they can then perform well enough to get a second bite at playing in Europe.

Before the scouts start flocking to all corners of the Commonwealth to find players with British passports who can play, it is understood that the respective Football Associations are already trying to set up a meeting with the Home Office to try and come up with a mutually acceptable solution to the problem. One where the regulations may be re-configured in order to maintain non-EU players plying their trade in the United Kingdom.

One argument that will not carry much weight is that English football needs these stars to ensure that they produce players who can compete at International level! It is likely to be a very interesting meeting when it happens. No doubt suggestions will be “strategically leaked” to the press.

Rugby Union and Cricket will also be effected by the decision to leave Europe. These two sports also operate within the Kolpak system where players from non-EU countries that have significant trading relations with the EU receive certain privileges. Countries that fall into this category are Australia, South Africa and some other African, Caribbean and Pacific countries.

It has been reported that 72 Kolpak players featured in the nation’s top rugby competition, the AVIVA Premiership last season. Half that number donned the whites and played in the County Championship cricket competition.

Those involved in grassroots sport in the Uk are none to clear as to where they stand at the present time. There was a great deal of scaremongering leading up to Brexit and there has been just as much after the referendum. One such story has implied that GBP7.5million in backing for junior sport is at risk. Yet there has been no actual confirmation of any money being at risk at the present time.

Yet it is clear that many sports may well have to adjust the way they operate, or negotiate independent agreements with individual EU nations. Darts and Snooker are two sports who are believed to already be looking at such opportunities, as in recent times they had seen their events hosted by EU nations, which in turn brought in new audiences and sponsors.

There is no reason why such tournaments should fall by the wayside simply because of the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the EU. However it does mean that those running these sports are now going to have to work a little harder to remain in those markets and form individual alliances that reap rewards for all.

It has been suggested that so convinced are some sports that the funding that has been their lifeblood will dry up when Britain does leave the EU that individual home nations sporting bodies are looking to merge and compete as Great Britain. This may make financial sense, as well as sense when it comes to competitiveness, but there will be some passionate Scots, Welsh, Northern Irish and even English who will not like such an idea. Such things only happen every four years with the Olympic Games and the British and Irish Lions. Yet would some sports benefit on the global stage by being a combined side?

One thing is well known in business, and sport is big business, is where there is chaos there is opportunity. Which sport will seize that opportunity and position itself the best and safeguard its long term future? It will be interesting to see which leaders see the opportunities and grasp them.

Once again despite the naysayers Brexit does not necessarily have to be all doom and gloom.

The Brexit Impact on British Sport – Opportunity or Catastrophe?
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