EU Referendum

EU referendum viewpoints: How would exit affect English football?

Eric Cantona, David Ginola, Dennis Bergkamp, Christiano Ronaldo Image copyright Other
Image caption European imports have left a lasting impression on the Premier League

We know a bit about what politicians and business leaders think about the upcoming referendum on Britain's membership of the EU, but what about the world of football?

Would a British exit change the character of the Premier League, which relies so heavily on European players and managers? Or would it give a boost to home-grown talent? As the January transfer window reaches its climax, we asked football experts, the governing bodies and both sides in referendum debate for their views.


The footballing authorities

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Image caption Premier League chief Richard Scudamore backs EU membership

Football's governing bodies like to stay out of the political spotlight, and they refused to comment when asked if they were for or against the UK's EU membership.

But Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore gave an insight into his position last October, in a little reported speech to the Institute of Directors.

According to the International Business Times, he said: "I believe we, in the UK, must be in Europe from a business perspective. I believe in the free movement of goods, but when it comes to services, we must be entitled, especially in the audiovisual world, to territorialism."

By services he meant broadcasting rights, which the Premier League's entire £3.3bn a year business depends on. Scudamore argued that broadcasting rights should be protected by national governments, to protect the Premier League's exports of raw live feeds of games from piracy and copyright infringement.

The FA is concerned about the influx of foreign players into the top tier of the English game, which it believes is crowding out young home-grown talent.

Working with the Home Office, it has brought in tougher visa restrictions on players from outside the EU, to ensure only established stars can be snapped up by English clubs.

The FA declined to comment on whether it would like to see similar restrictions on players from within the EU, which could only come about if Britain left.


Rory Miller, former director of the MBA (Football Industries) programme at Liverpool University

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"The interests of the FA, which is concerned about the future of the England team, and the Premier League, which is concerned with maximising the value of national and international broadcasting rights for the clubs, are far from identical.

"If - after Britain left the EU - there was a strict migration quota strictly applied then one would assume that the Home Office would give preference to the thousands of workers needed to keep essential public services going. Footballers and other sports people would not be given priority, except, perhaps, for the absolute stars.

"The worst case scenario for the Premier League is that it would not be permitted to attract foreign stars in great numbers and would then lose ground in international sponsorship and broadcasting rights to rivals like Spain and Germany. This would make a minor hole in the UK's invisible exports and tax receipts as well.

"While Premier League teams might thus be forced to give more opportunities to home grown English players, it is doubtful whether the growing insularity of English football would actually benefit the England team because of diminished opportunities to play against the very best and to be coached by the very best.

"In the end, it will all depend on how British politics evolve after an exit from the EU. If right wing 'Little Englanders' came to power, insisting on the strictest migration quotas, then the international attraction of the Premier League would be significantly reduced."


Will Straw, Britain Stronger in Europe

Image copyright PA
Image caption The EU promotes sport in schools across Europe, says Will Straw

"British football, its clubs and its fans, are stronger and better off in Europe.

"For clubs, free movement plays a vital role in the transfer marker. Players from the EU can sign for UK clubs without needing a visa or work permit.

"Leaving the EU could have a big impact on foreign players, as a Guardian study has found that around two thirds of Premiership players from the EU would not meet the criteria currently used for non-Europeans to get a work visa automatically.

"Losing this unhindered access to European talent would put British clubs at a disadvantage. FA boss Martin Glenn has said that deteriorating relations between the EU and Britain is one of his 'biggest concerns'.

"Fans benefit from Britain's membership of the EU. Europe's single market brings us cheaper flights, making it more affordable to see away games across Europe. Free movement, meanwhile, ensures that British fans don't face visa fees when travelling around Europe.

"But this is not just about the big leagues, it is also about the future of the sport. The EU promotes sport in schools across Europe. Under the Erasmus programme, anyone in Britain with a bright idea for a local football project can get money from the EU to get the ball rolling and make that idea a reality. Britain has received £1.5m in Erasmus sports funding over the past two years.

"Football in our country gains so much from being in Europe. Clubs and fans all benefit from European action, laws and funding. Leaving the EU would hurt our leagues, inconvenience our fans, and be a step back for the next generation of footballers."


Robert Oxley, Vote Leave

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Image caption Would leaving the EU strengthen the England team?

"In the dressing room of the Britain Stronger in Europe campaign, the team tactics are quite clear. Run 'project fear' and scare voters about the prospect of leaving the EU.

"Their latest claims, that football would somehow be damaged by a vote to leave are utter nonsense and should be shown the red card.

"Their claims ignore the fact that outside the EU, we would be free to set our own policy on migration, visas, and work permits to suit our economy and our national game and instead assume we would apply an incredibly restrictive visa regime that literally no-one is arguing for.

"Right now we are both prevented from implementing policies to nurture domestic talent and from bringing the top footballing talent from right across the globe. That's the worst of all worlds.

"The FA has acknowledged the recent restrictions that have been introduced on skilled immigration from non-EU countries are the direct consequence of the EU's freedom of movement rules.

"This has hurt clubs' abilities to bring in players from outside of the EU while preventing any limits from being imposed within the EU. That's not a decision of anyone we elect, that's thanks to the controversial 1995 Bosman ruling in the European Court of Justice. This trade-off has happened across the economy, but what if it didn't have to give up control on players from inside and outside of the EU?

"What if the UK and the FA got to decide who plays in the Premier league from abroad rather than unaccountable and unelected EU judges? That's what would happen if we vote leave. Don't believe the scaremongering to the contrary."


Brian Monteith, Leave.eu

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"Leaving the EU will be of great benefit for British football for it will mean we can lift our horizons to recruit from the rest of the world because it will become easier to introduce footballers from countries outside the EU.

"All we hear is the scaremongering about leaving the EU when the truth is it offers positive opportunities for us and children from poorer nations. Who could be against that?

"The freedom of movement for people in the EU comes at the price of heavy restrictions on visas for potential signings from Africa, the Caribbean, South America and Asia. Once we leave the EU the UK will be free to treat footballers from all countries equally which will broaden the pool of talent for our teams, not reduce it.

"Why should our clubs find it difficult to gain a work permit for a highly talented Moroccan or Nigerian but a Belgian of only average talent is made an easy option. Surely it makes sense to treat everyone equally and let our clubs decide who they want to sign?"

What impact do you think leaving the EU would have on British football?

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