Brexit Fouls Incoming Sports Talent

Following the Brexit Referendum, the impact on UK Law is largely unknown and will vary depending in the Brexit negotiations. It is however, anticipated that much of the Law in the United Kingdom will be affected by Brexit and Sports Law is no exception. Our specialist sports lawyers at Paul Robinson Solicitors LLP will be paying especially close attention to the outcome of these negotiations, and in particular the impact on our clients, should free movement of people be restricted or indeed removed altogether.

Free Movement of People (“FMP”) is a fundamental Pillar of the European Union, it is the reason European citizens are able to work and travel with relative ease throughout the European Union. Removing this, could hamper player signings and particularly the recruitment of international talent into the UK, irrespective of the sport, initially. The far reaching effects of this may impact, whether a top flight club or a regional grass root organisation, financially, via sponsorship and/or broadcasting rights and the recruitment of players.

The loss of the FMP will be of major concern to a number of sporting leagues who wish to recruit the best European talent (without needing a work permit) to satisfy the appetite of fans, sponsors and broadcasters who have become accustomed to English sporting leagues being liberally sprinkled with talent. This is largely down Article 45 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union which established the FMP but also the 1995 Bosman ruling – which confirmed that a transfer fee is no longer payable for players transferring from one club to another within the European Union, following the expiry of their contracts. Payment of a fee would amount to a restriction of this principle.

Some of the first high profile footballers benefiting from this principle, include:

• Edgar Davids who in 1996 became Europe's first high-profile player to benefit from the ruling when he moved from Ajax to Milan.

• Steve McManaman who moved from Liverpool to Real Madrid in 1999 on a free transfer and became the highest paid British player at the time.

Indeed, research released by the BBC in relation to England’s Premier League and Championship and the Scottish Premiership has shown that 322 players playing in those leagues would not meet the current foreign player criteria if they were to be imposed on EU/EEA players. This clearly poses a clear and present danger to clubs, leagues and players respectively.

Some may consider that this will improve the fortunes of the National games, across many sports, but rights holders, particularly club shareholders and owners, will be concerned about the knock-on effects to the commercialisation of sport in the UK through broadcast and sponsorship revenue. Should Brexit affect the sporting sector in the manner it is anticipated, then clubs, at all levels, need to anticipate this change and ensure all relevant processes are in place to deal with the specific challenges facing this sector.

The recruitment of top players is critical to any club. Denying clubs the ability to recruit such players could have devastating effects on all sports engaged in this country.

Paul Robinson Solicitors LLP continue to support clubs around the country which only emphasises our commitment to the success of our partnership clubs. Should you wish to discuss your existing Contracts and Commercial Agreements to ensure your club will remain competitive in the coming seasons and post Brexit, please get in touch with one of our specialist sports lawyers today on 01702 338338.