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Football and the EU referendum – are we scoring an own goal if we leave?

Phillip Smith, Health and Wellbeing Lead for Leyton Orient Trust discusses what effect on the footballing world the in/out vote could have…

On the 23rd June the UK will decide whether to leave or remain in the EU and this vote could make waves across the footballing world. This may not be one of the most important topics coming out of the referendum but it very interesting to explore the possible effects. The footballing world spans far and wide and so I’ve decided to look into a few key areas that could be affected positively or negatively if we leave the EU.

How would it affect the players? – There are currently 332 EU national footballers playing in the top two English and Scottish professional leagues, undoubtedly the biggest effect on the beautiful game could be felt here as all of these 332 players would come under close scrutiny. At present, players with an EU passport are currently free to play in the UK. Those without must meet Home Office criteria with the most important being they are established internationals for their country. Analysis of the premier league shows that 100 premier league players would be affected based on the 2015-16 season squads with only 23 of the 180 current non British EU players playing in the championship being eligible to get work permits. This is the same situation for 63 non-British players in league one and 46 in league two. Leaving the EU could mean that these players would need to leave however realistically due to the legality and issues this will raise with clubs and player assets, it is more likely that if we left the EU, the government would revisit the criteria. In leaving it would actually give us the freedom to set up our own rules for players both inside and outside of the EU to join clubs allowing EU players to remain as well as clubs being able to tap into more African, South American and Asian talent too, something we cannot currently do due to EU regulations – a very interesting prospect but one that could further raise the argument in whether we give enough British talent the opportunity to break through. The final say on all work permit decisions and structure would be with the UK government and it is worth also noting that two other countries are currently not in the EU but are still able to deal in the EU transfer market – Norway and Switzerland.

How would it affect the fans? – There are many things to consider here but these would be mainly at the top of the game, it is likely that travel to European matches for British fans and indeed foreign fans & teams involved in the Champions League or Europa League could have issues with it being made harder and more expensive to travel – as we would technically no longer have ease of passage through EU borders. It is likely that this would not be effective immediately and would take a number of years to process. Once again, a look at Switzerland and Norway notes that it is possible and likely that the EU and UK government would agree some sort of compromise here. There is potential that leaving could impact the finances of some clubs sponsorship with investors from abroad which could have a knock on effect on some clubs, particularly those with foreign owners, it is very hard to predict this though. If this did happen though it would be interesting to see the ramifications it may have on some clubs, no doubt affecting the smaller league 1/league 2 clubs just as much as any larger clubs with the need for investment even more important at the lower levels.

What would be the impact on European Tournaments?
There shouldn’t be any impact here as these are run by FIFA and UEFA. There are a number of other non-EU countries that currently participate in these tournaments (Champions league, Europa league etc)

How could clubs be affected in their communities?
Football trusts, the charity arms of the football club do some amazing work in the communities, from working with health to community cohesion to national citizenship work, the variety of engagement they have is huge. This however does need to be funded and many utilize Erasmus funding to deliver projects. Britain has received over £1.5million in Erasmus funding over the past two years with universities and football clubs community arms in receipt of some of this money and leaving the EU could remove a large funding pot from availability.

As with many things being analyzed in the build up to the EU referendum, it is extremely hard to predict what will happen if we leave the EU. There will be a time of grace and the exit will not be an immediate one. One things for sure though, football is here to stay.

If you are not yet signed up to vote in the EU referendum, you can do here right now.

Phillip Smith

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Written by By Patrick Magill

Project Assistant working alongside Dr Darren Sharpe on a number of youth funded projects that is in conjunction with The University of East London.

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