If it ain’t broke, should British football Brexit?


The right of citizens of European Union (“EU”) member states to move freely about Europe for employment purposes is one of the four fundamental freedoms guaranteed by the EU and in the world of football, is at the heart of the infamous Bosman ruling. With over 150 players from the EU in the Premier League alone, the question is posed of what effect a vote to leave the EU would have on English football?

Given that European footballers are afforded free movement, the FA has imposed tight restrictions on work permits to non-EU footballers in an attempt to promote home grown players. A new immigration application process was introduced by the FA in May 2015 which provides two alternate routes for non-EU players.

Automatic Governing Body Endorsement To be eligible for automatic Governing Body Endorsement, a non-EU player must have participated in a minimum percentage of senior competitive international matches in the two years preceding the date of his application. The required percentages are determined by that county’s FIFA world rankings, with the highest ranking countries having the lowest corresponding percentage and vice versa:

Fifa Ranking 1-10: 30% and above (e.g Brazil)

Fifa Ranking 11-20: 45% and above (e.g. Uruguay)

Fifa Ranking 21-30: 60% and above (e.g. USA)

Fifa Ranking 31-50: 75% and above (e.g. Ivory Coast)

If these automatic criteria are not met, the player can lodge an appeal to the Exceptions Panel (the “Panel”).

Exceptions Panel

The appeals process is a points based system under which the Panel will award points depending on the circumstances of the transfer. This new system is harder to satisfy than the previous test, with research suggesting that 33% of the players who gained entry under the old system would not have been granted a work visa under the new system.

One of the many uncertainties the UK would face in the event of a vote to leave is whether the current system to obtain a work visa will be imposed on EU players. A recent study has found that around two thirds of EU players in the Premier League would not meet the criteria as it currently stands. There are fears this would result in an inability to attract foreign players and that Britain would lose ground in international sponsorship and broadcasting rights.

The ‘out’ Campaign

Those supporting the ‘out’ campaign argue that leaving the EU will afford the UK the opportunity to treat footballers from all countries equally which will broaden the pool of exceptional talent. With the table set out above it is clear that a highly talented non EU player from a country lowly ranked by FIFA would be preferable to an average player who originates from an EU member state.

It was revealed that only 73 English players took to the field out of a total of 220 on the opening weekend of the current 2015/16 Premier League season. This highlights the fact that the interests of the FA to nurture home-grown talent and the Premier League to develop an international product broadcast across the globe are far from identical.

Brexit could be the platform to allow ‘home-grown’ youth players to finally prove their worth if fresh policy determined that only the highest calibre footballers (whether EU or non EU) were allowed to play in the UK. Ideally for British players, managers would have fewer ‘cheap imports’ to choose from when selecting their squads.

Whilst there is a lot of uncertainty surrounding the future of the UK if there is a vote to leave, it is clear that the future of English football would be heavily affected by such a decision 23 June 2016.

If you need any advice on any Sports Law related matters please do not hesitate to contact a member of the team.

Jim Pearson – Sports Consultant