Sports and politics have never gone hand on hand. Though we have seen some instances of politicization of sports, the apex authorities like FIFA, IOC, and ICC have always tried to maintain the sanctity. However, there are certain political events that affect every sphere of human lives and sports have no escape from it. One of the biggest political events of the world in current times is Brexit— Britain’s exit from the European Union. A lot of after-effects are working as the bone of contention that includes the Irish border, food, energy, and medical shortages. However, one of the most neglected dimensions stays UK sport; especially, the Premier League, as it caters to multi-national players.
Britain’s effort to sign a post-Brexit deal has not been successful in recent months and it creates more uncertainty on the fate of the Premier League. However, here is an elaborate explanation of the probable outcome of Brexit and its likely impact on the Premier League.
Brexit: A portmanteau and beyond
By Brexit, we generally refer to the exit of Britain from the mighty European Union. But, the devil is always in the details. It is not just an exit, but a divorce that would have an impact on financials, border, demography, and society. Brexit has been debated for almost a decade in Britain. However, its official image was realized in June 2016, when British people voted in support of Brexit in a referendum with a narrow margin of 51.9%. It has been breaching deadline after deadline since 2016 due to its complexity.
However, as per the British politicians, the delay is happening because of their effort to sign a post-Brexit deal with the Union. With many failed attempts of signing a deal and broad consensus within Britain itself, the possibility of a no-deal break-up is also looming.
Impact on the Immigration for Players
It should be noted that a basic premise of the European Union is the freedom of movement. However, with Britain’s exit from the Union, that freedom may no more exist. It may lead to a confused state for the players who belong to non-UK nations. As of now, Britain has launched EU Temporary Leave to Remain (TLR) category in its immigration system. This new category aims to bridge the gap between January 31, 2020, and January 1, 2021, in case Britain can’t strike a deal. What happens post-January 2021 is the crucial thing here. As per the records, it may have its impact on 152 current Premier League players.
However, if a deal is signed between the European Union and Britain, freedom of movement will be there till December 31, 2020. After this cut-off date, players will have to go through the process that is now applicable for non-EU players. It will affect not only players but also managers and coaches. As of now, there are nine European managers in the League that include big names like Jurgen Klopp from Germany, Pep Guardiola from Spain, and Ole Solskjaer from Norway.
As of now, all EU players are free to play in the league due to the freedom of movement clause and non-EU players have to get a work permit from the government. Getting a work permit is also quite a task. Players need to get a Governing Body Endorsement (GBE) from The FA. However, the automatic eligibility clause is also there with certain conditions that pertain to the ranking of their respective national teams and concerned players’ participation.
After Brexit, all non-UK European players may need to go through this system. It may significantly impact English football’s lower divisions, whose players are not likely to be qualified for playing international matches. This will lead to more hindrances for the smaller teams to rise through ranks.
Since the inception of the Premier League, there has been a debate on the topic of home-grown players. The FA believes that Brexit may open many more avenues for the English players to hone their skills by participating in the League and it will lead to a stronger national team. However, the League refutes stating statistics. In the year 1992, there were a total of 70% home-grown players and in 2019, the mark has fallen to 33%. And 2018 is believed to be the most successful year for the English national team and it currently is ranked at 4th in FIFA ranking.
It’s obvious that the objectives of the League and the FA are not on the same page. The league wants to be branded as the best league in world football, whereas FA needs the best national team. So, it would be important to see for whom Brexit would bring good days.
Brexit will severely impact the league’s ability to tame youth players for teams. Here, youth denotes any players within the age group of 16 to 18 years. As far as FIFA’s regulations are concerned, it strictly prohibits the international transfer of minors. However, it has been granting an exception for the EU players. The exception says, “The transfer takes place within the territory of the European Union (EU) or European Economic Area (EEA) and the player is aged between 16 and 18.”
Once Britain leaves the Union, no European players can move to the League. However, some believe that this may create good opportunities for English academy players.
Since Brexit has been declared, the value of the pound has been riding on a slope. Currently, a pound is at 1.18 Euro, whereas it was at 1.43 Euro in 2015. As the pound weakens, it will be a costly affair for the Premiere league clubs to spend on foreign players and managers. However, it is very early to say that the Pound will continue to depreciate as there has not been a deal yet. But, any news of certainty regarding the deal will be beneficial for the stability in the decision making by the league clubs.
The Way Forward
It should not be taken on a light note that the most important USP of Premier League is its international dimension. Without this impression, it will remain only a local club match league. Whether Britain gets out of the EU with a deal or without any deal, there should be certainty over the same at the earliest. In a completely new political landscape, a lot of things are likely to change. So a certain amount of dilution in the Premier League’s dominance should not be a completely unexpected event.