Ever since the Brexit vote in the referendum of 23 June, there've been furious discussions about the possible repercussions of Britain leaving the European Union. Sports in general and football in particular have been underpinned by EU law for decades -- it was held in Walrave v. Koch that EU law applies to football insofar as the game constitutes an economic activity -- so you would imagine that Brexit would have a significant impact on the English Premier League.
Of course, it is impossible to say at such an early stage with any degree of certainty how Britain leaving the EU could affect English football. Even if Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty (which allows members to withdraw from the Union) is triggered, experts say that it can take the UK anywhere between two and ten years to completely pull out of the EU.
Still, the immediate effect of the EU referendum on the Premier League could be significant owing to currency fluctuations. The pound's initial nosedive might cause clubs in the UK to have to pay a premium for European players. On the flipside, European clubs could sign British players for far less an amount than they are worth.
The pound's initial nosedive might cause clubs in the UK to have to pay a premium for European players.
An important question for consideration concerns work permits for EU players.
The European Union confers upon its members the right to move across the bloc freely for work. Members of the European Economic Area (Iceland, Lichtenstein and Norway) and Switzerland also have this privilege. This means that any citizen of an EU/EEA nation can move within this region without a visa, for the purposes of employment.
Britain's exit from the EU could mean that players in the EU/EEA will have to comply with the UK's stringent work permit regulations just like those outside of the region do. At present these regulations require non-EU players to meet certain criteria based on their international appearances corresponding to their nation's FIFA ranking. This is to ensure that those seeking employment in the UK are of a high calibre and can contribute significantly to the growth of English football.
According to research conducted by the BBC, "more than 100 Premier League players would be affected" and that players such as Dimitri Payet, Anthony Martial, and N'golo Kante would not have been able to sign for their respective clubs under the current rules.
While this paints a grim picture of what we can expect in the post-Brexit era, many believe that the actual consequences will be minimal.
ESPN's Gabriele Marcotti thinks the current work permit rules may be watered down over time to protect the English game. He writes that these rules were written by the British Home Office and the Football Association, for the good of the English game. Thus, if the FA foresees a threat to English football arising out of the overly rigid work permit requirements, we can expect these rules to be re-written.
Britain's exit from the EU could mean that players in the EU/EEA will have to comply with the UK's stringent work permit regulations...
Interestingly, Brexit would no longer bind the UK to any of the decisions of the European Court of Justice (ECJ), particularly the Bosman ruling. (To know more about the Bosman case, see here)
There is the question of whether the UK would revert to the conditions prevailing before the Bosman verdict. This would imply the reintroduction of the "nationality rule" and, possibly, the abolition of free transfers.
- The nationality (or the 3+2) rule restricted the number of foreign players per club to five. EU Law currently prohibits discrimination on the grounds of nationality. In the event of Brexit, however, Britain would be free to discriminate on the basis of nationality under the pretext of promoting British talent by exposing more UK-born players top flight football.
- The concept of free transfers didn't exist prior to 1995, thus preventing or severely restricting footballers from changing clubs even after the expiry of their contracts. It is possible, at least in theory, that if the UK is no longer bound to follow the ECJ's Bosman ruling, free transfers may once again be abolished. Sports lawyer Daniel Geey believes there is unlikely to be any such attempt by the FA as the principles laid down in the Bosman case have since been applied to several cases domestically and would pose no jurisdictional issues.
Britain would be free to discriminate on the basis of nationality under the pretext of promoting British talent by exposing more UK-born players top flight football.
A more real cause for concern is with regards to Article 19 of the FIFA's Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players (RSTP).
This provision prohibits international transfers involving players under the age of 18 subject to certain exceptions, one of them being that if the transfer takes place within the EU/EEA, the minimum age is reduced from 18 to 16. If the UK leaves the EU however, English clubs could lose their right to this exception. This loophole has been exploited many times in the past. Cesc Fabregas signed for Arsenal when he was just 16. More recent examples include Hector Bellerin, who joined Arsenal aged 16 and Adnan Januzaj who signed for Manchester United at the age of 17.
However, like the others, this problem too only represents the worst case scenario. Experts believe that even if Britain leaves the EU, it is likely to negotiate a deal with the Union to remain a part of the EEA, in which case it could continue to be able to utilize the exception.
It is still too early to predict when or indeed if Brexit will happen, and the nature of the FA's reaction depends on this event. A lot, therefore, hinges on whether Article 50 is invoked, and subsequently, on the exit terms the UK negotiates with the EU and the subsequent relationship between the two.
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