When Britain goes to the ballot boxes in June to decide the fate of the union with Europe, most voters might be thinking about migration, about taxes or about international security. It is perhaps safe to say that despite being a football loving nation, a significantly smaller number of people will be thinking about football. But perhaps they should, argues the SCC football correspondent Erik Andreasson.
Premier League chairman Sir Dave Richard famously said “England gave the world football” and indeed the highest division in the English league system is one of the most popular and prestigious football leagues in the world. It is broadcast in over 200 countries, reaching an audience of 730 million homes and 3 billion people. Its rich history and players’ quick rise-to-fame has made the Premier League perhaps the most competitive league in the world; attracting top talent from all across the globe seeking to fulfil their dreams to play with the best. But a yes-vote in the EU referendum in June could alter this.
The first fallout
The Football Association (FA) and Premier League have admitted being unsure of what the effects of a potential Brexit would be, but it is clear that work permits of the 161 non-British European footballers currently playing in the Premier League could be in jeopardy. According to the British newspaper The Guardian, two thirds do not initially satisfy the FA and Home Office criteria required in order to obtain work visas. The Guardian also concluded that although all twenty Premier League clubs could be affected to some degree, Newcastle, Aston Villa and Watford bear the highest risk of losing 11 players from their squads respectively. Pragmatists however, regardless of their position on the EU referendum, would argue that visa rules are unlikely to apply retroactively, and that bilateral arrangements are likely to be met with the EU. But then again, one might ask oneself whether it is believed to be of top priority on the government’s to-do list.
Could Brexit be beneficial to English football?
It may not all be for the worse, however. Those in favour of an EU exit could argue that despite a reduced short-term influx of footballers holding EU passports, a post-Brexit Premier League would force English clubs to nurture domestic talent instead of looking outside its borders. This would also work in favour of the FA’s “home-grown rule”, which came into effect in season 2010/11, requiring clubs to include eight home-grown players in its 25 strong squad. (A home grown player is defined as having spent at least three seasons in an FA affiliated club prior to their 21st birthday.) What’s more, Brexit proponents may claim that only after an EU exit will international transfers be processed on equal terms, referring to the elimination of so-called loopholes enabling players such as Chelsea’s Brazilian Diego Costa to represent Spain’s national team and gain Spanish citizenship, possibly to smoothen his transfer to the Premier League in 2014.
The negatives of a post-Brexit Premier League
On the other hand, football fans in favour of Bremain could argue that although leaving would first cause a short-term mess in terms of player’s visa status, the real long-term threat is that the league might lose its competitiveness by not being able to attract the best young talent. Moreover, and directly noticeable for the supporters’ wallets, leaving the EU could have fans spending more money on travel and visa fees for away games in Europe, leading to a drop in spectator numbers and ultimately to the detriment of the sport.
Whichever stand you are cheering from, the potential effects of a Brexit keeps spreading to new – and perhaps unexpected – areas and its impact on football, more specifically the Premier League, still remains to be seen. As we have seen, and similar to most other areas of society, a post-Brexit Premier League would come with its own pros and cons, but as football agent Rachel Anderson told the BBC, “leaving the EU will have a much bigger effect on football than people think”.