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Following the result of the referendum on leaving the European Union in June 2016, there has been much discussion as to how the outcome will impact on a variety of sectors. One area of discussion has been the potential impact it could have on professional sport. This briefing summarises some of the commentary focusing on this area, and on how professional sport could be affected by the upcoming negotiations on the UK’s future relationship with the EU. It is split into two sections, the potential effect on immigration and free movement and the possible economic impact on the sports sector.

Following the announcement in the 2017 Government white paper that post-Brexit, the Free Movement Directive would no longer apply and the migration of EU nationals would become subject to UK law, commentators have discussed the potential impact this could have on professional sport. This briefing focuses on three of the UK’s most popular team sports—football, rugby and cricket—and explores the possible consequences should European Union and European Economic Area citizens become subject to the same rules which currently apply to individuals from outside of the EU and EEA. Speculation on this scenario has lead commentators to predict that top flight British football could lose a significant number of players—research by the BBC has shown that in the English Premier League, the Championship, and in the Scottish Premier League, 332 players would not meet the current requirements which non-EU and EEA players must meet. In addition, commentators have argued that the loss of exemptions connected to the UK’s membership of the EU would make football more reliant on home-grown talent. It has also been suggested this issue could also extend to both rugby and cricket, with the loss of the ‘Kolpak rule’ meaning that players from countries which have an associate trade agreement with the EU will no longer have the same rights as UK players. However, commentators have claimed that these issues could lead to a greater focus on the development of grassroots sport, which could be positive for the performance of national teams.

There have also been suggestions that the UK’s exit from the EU may have an economic impact on professional sport. Sport and sport-related activity contributes significantly to the economy, with research from 2010 showing it generated £20.3 billion of Gross Value Added (GVA) and 400,000 full-time equivalent jobs. With commentators discussing the impact of the fall in the value of sterling, there have been suggestions that wages and transfer fees will increase. In addition, the potential impact on broadcasting, sponsorship and merchandise sales has been discussed, with some claiming that the issues around immigration could decrease the Premier League’s global appeal and therefore some of its value. However, others have suggested that top flight sport is big enough to weather any issues which could result from the UK leaving the Europe.


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