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Sports Law Insights: Brexit – Implications for Football

On June 23rd 2016, the British public voted to leave the EU. Brexit is likely to have an impact on British and European sport, depending on the nature of the relationship the UK negotiates with the EU.

Brexit will mean that sports bodies in the UK can more easily adopt nationality quota systems without fear of EU free movement provisions being applied. Some sports bodies, such as the Football Association, may consider this advantageous in their attempts to increase the pool of nationally eligible talent the national team manager can select from. Others, such as the English Premier League may be concerned that limiting the number of overseas players will damage its international brand and hand a competitive advantage to other competing European leagues.

It is unclear whether the current system of work permits regulating access by non-EU footballers to the UK market will be amended following Brexit. The current system is based on Sports Governing Body Endorsement which permits access to the UK market based on the number of appearances the player has made depending on FIFA rankings. It is supplemented by a special exemptions panel which considers special cases. It seems certain that whether reformed or not post-Brexit, the very best playing talent will still be able to play in the Premier League, although the cost to clubs of attracting these players might rise. This could have implications for the Financial Fair Play obligations of English clubs. The impact of Brexit might be felt by players below the top-level, and this could have a significant impact on the leagues below the Premier League.

Currently, Premier League football clubs recruit young players from overseas into their academies. The FIFA Regulations only allow international transfers for players over the age of 18, with an exception for EU players aged between 16 and 18. Brexit would mean that the exemption is removed for the UK. This would damage the recruitment model employed by many English clubs and make it more difficult for these clubs to classify these players as home grown players under the UEFA regulations. A home grown player study was commissioned by the European Commission and co-authored by the CSLR.

Ultimately, the impact of Brexit on British football will depend on the nature of the relationship negotiated between the British government and the EU. If that agreement contains a free movement provision, business will be largely as normal. If not, then British football will have to adjust to a new international environment.