Brexit’s potential impact on sport


There have been a number of voices over recent months hinting at the negative impact that Brexit could have on British sport. Earlier this year BBC Sport analysis suggested that 332 players in the top two divisions of English football, plus the Scottish Premiership, would be at risk by a Leave vote – a view backed up by Karen Brady from Stronger In a letter that she sent to all of the professional football teams in England, Scotland and Wales in January. Similarly, she hinted at the impact on competition and travelling fans – something relevant not just in football, but in the two rugby codes, both of which have commitments in European club competition on a regular basis – and I say that as a fan of a rugby league team that got beaten 44-16 by a team from Toulouse at the weekend!

Whilst football and rugby, with their European dimension, would be hit at professional level, it is the grassroots impact on sport that is perhaps more significant.

For many young people, a sports tour is often their first experience of travelling abroad, other than for a traditional holiday. It’s universally recognised as a positive experience, encouraging players to meet people with whom they have something in common, but from a different culture. Brexit puts that experience at risk.

The Leave campaign, I’m sure, would argue that sports tours are not new; that they existed for a long period prior to our membership of the EEC, hence why Britain has been able to export codified games to the world. But, in my opinion, it is a question of simplicity. A vote to Leave will make a sporting tour more difficult. Paperwork will inevitably increase. Insurance costs will be likely to increase. Local healthcare on tour will be less accessible and more costly. If your child is on a rugby tour to the south of France or a ski trip to the Alps, you would want that piece of mind. With Brexit, this is all at risk.

As Karen Brady suggested, Brexit would likely have an impact on professional players moving in both directions. Some might argue – with good reasoning – that more British players playing at the top level in Britain can only be a good thing, and I would agree to an extent. But what of the impact outside of our biggest spectator sports? For some sports that are much bigger in Europe than here – volleyball and basketball, for instance – the influx of experienced players and coaches to the British game has developed new clubs and arguably raised the quality of play, as well as the overall player and volunteer pool.

In summary, it is my opinion that, our membership of the European Union enhances sport at all levels. It increases opportunity for players, coaches and teams, either at home or away on tour. It enriches both their cultural and their sporting experience. Sport is one of the greatest exports from these islands, and it would be against many of the values that sport personifies – teamwork, friendship, fairness and competition – to hinder that heritage.

* John Thomason has worked in both community and professional sport for the past 15 years, and was recently a Lib Dem council candidate in Wigan, Greater Manchester.

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  • Nonconformistradical 30th May '16 - 12:10pm

    “Some might argue – with good reasoning – that more British players playing at the top level in Britain can only be a good thing”

    Perhaps the way to achieve that might be for more British players to spend more time honing their skills and working towards actually being worth the salaries some – or their agents on their behalf – appear to demand..

  • Frankly a lot of us who have been football supporters since the year dot are very disillusioned about so called Premier League football with its mega rich self-indulgence and pretensions. I couldn’t care less about it.

    I find watching the occasional match at honest endeavour Darlington (just promoted from the Evo Stik League with enthusiatic fan support and ownership ) much more joyful than watching multi millionaire Wonga Newcastle owned by the Ashley person. Great to see Ashley get his come uppance recently.

  • I think the one thing we can say with certainty is that in the event of exit, super-rich footballers (or indeed super-rich people in general) will still be allowed to come here.

  • I am looking forward to when Boris Johnson tries to renegotiate implementation of the off side rule for UK teams.

  • Peter Watson 30th May '16 - 1:06pm

    “Local healthcare on tour will be less accessible and more costly. If your child is on a rugby tour to the south of France or a ski trip to the Alps, you would want that piece of mind.”
    I suspect that the issue of children’s trips to the south of France and the Alps will not win a lot of sympathy or converts from all of those people who cannot afford them regardless of whether or not we are in the EU.
    But how accurate is the claim that “local healthcare on tour will be less accessible and more costly”? The European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) is an important part of this, and as far as I know is not an exclusively EU scheme.

  • Stevan Rose 30th May '16 - 1:21pm

    More nonsense of the jumping the shark type. If I was not a committed Remain this type of rubbish might push me towards Brexit. Under what rules did England last win the World Cup? The Premier League has 65% foreign players. The Bundesliga gas 22% and La Liga just 37%. At one point lower league clubs survived on developing domestic talent for the bigger clubs. Money flowed downwards within the domestic game. Now clubs scout and buy worldwide not just in the EU. That is a negative for the game but a very profitable move for the likes of Brady. Brexit should improve the domestic game. It will have no noticeable difference to any other sport or competition.

    Increasing costs and paperwork is highly debatable, not a will but a maybe. It depends on the exit negotiations. If we remain part of the EEA then no change. Otherwise there are reciprocal agreements. I can get full access to NZ public healthcare should I visit on a rugby tour or any other reason. Most people take travel insurance for trips to Europe anyway.

    At the beginning of this campaign it was Brexit coming up with all the laughable claims, a sign of their desperation. Now we seem to be doing something similar by bringing up stuff that frankly pushes most people the other way with fear points you can drive a coach and horses through. For goodness sakes, can we stop aiming at our own feet and focus on the true advantages of EU membership, which is not packing our football teams with 65% foreign players, undermining domestic talent.

  • Football signings in Britain are tied to TV rights not the EU. The logic is actually more like 1970s Italian film culture where a multi national cast was lured in to make giallo thrillers and horror movies . It helps secure overseas sales.
    But really in Britain Football is mostly about the town/city level patriotism of supporting your local team.

  • Ever since the referendum was announced I’ve thought it was pretty much a certainty the “remain” side would win. However, they are coming out with so much rubbish they are actually driving people into the “leave” camp. God alone knows who had the bright idea to get quotes from Karen Brady – not many football fans would want to be on the same side as her.

  • Richard Underhill 30th May '16 - 4:15pm

    Stevan Rose: Home team in England, not retained in Mexico in 1970.
    jimmy Greaves unavailable injured in the final. No substitutes. No goalmouth electronics. Referee and linesman did not have any languages in common. Broadcast on TV in monochrome, much smaller screens, colour for cinemas.

  • Baroness Brady? The individual who both spoke at Tory conferences and seemingly used West Ham finances to donate to the Tory party before being granted a very, very, very favourable deal for the Olympic Stadium? Baroness Brady who spoke about her concerns of sexism in sport despite spending everyday of her sporting life working with those involved in adult-themed magazines?

    If I had to chose between Boris and Brady I would spoil my ballot.

  • Stevan Rose 30th May '16 - 8:31pm

    “they are coming out with so much rubbish they are actually driving people into the “leave” camp”

    My postal vote has arrived. I think I’ll fill it in now before the Remain campaign can convince me to vote Leave. Before they try and tell me about the fantastic advantages of the Common Fisheries Policy and if we leave sardines in tomato sauce will double in price, and the Cypriot fish and chip shop owners in London will up sticks and relocate to Romania.

  • Richard Underhill 30th May '16 - 8:43pm

    On the stalls on two Saturdays a guy who works in the City was trying to understand our point of view. He will obviously vote to leave, but he was not trying to persuade us.
    Maybe he is short-selling the pound. I told him that the Deutschemark was created by the UK, the USA and France. The Russians did not like it.
    When the Iron Curtain was breached in 1989 on the Hungary-Austria border and the Berlin Wall fell, West Germany accepted East German Ost-Marks at a parity of one to one with the Deutsche Mark. They have two previous experiences of a single currency.

  • We need to be asking why the Reamin campaign has been so poor lacking in passion. More worryingly should we not be asking by the Labour and Lib Dem “campaigns” have been so ineffective. The average voter appears to not know what the pollicy of either is towards the referendum. I am a fervent European but unless Labour and ourselves pull our respective fingers out I fear Leave will win. Maybe the Mayor of London has set the example appearing with the Prime Minister.

  • Thank goodness for the EU! Welsh rugby fans can visit Paris and Dublin (and Rome now) for the Internationals.

    Whereas, in the bad old days before we joined the EU Welsh rugby fans … er … visited Paris and Dublin for the Internationals.


  • Stevan Rose,

    Spot on!

  • Stevan Rose 31st May '16 - 5:14pm

    Crewegwyn, I hope that you can see through the nonsense coming from both camps and nevertheless vote Remain. Remain, above all else, keeps our options open and preserves our right to leave at any time should any or all of Leave’s disaster scenarios prove accurate. With Leave you don’t know (because they don’t agree amongst themselves) whether you’ll get the EEA no change except no seat at the table option or complete isolated or something in the middle.

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