The two-year Article 50 process is now entering its final, decisive phase. At the time of writing, Parliament has been preparing for a vote on the government’s proposed Brexit deal.
While sport is unlikely to be uppermost in MPs’ minds when they file through the lobbies, the impact of their decision will be felt across the sector.
Assessing the precise impact of Brexit on sport is rather more art than science at this stage, in large part because the terms of withdrawal have not yet been formally agreed and the shape of the future relationship remains somewhat vague.
Indeed, the draft political declaration on the future UK-EU relationship runs to just 26 pages and encompasses everything from trade to security cooperation. A lot of fine detail will therefore need to be thrashed out once the UK formally leaves the EU on 29 March 2019 and enters a transition period until the end of 2020.
Given such a fluid political context, the Sport and Recreation Alliance has been engaging with its members to identify the key challenges and opportunities Brexit presents.
As a result of this work, we’ve set out six tests for government to make sure the sport and recreation sector can thrive in a post-Brexit future:
• Provide flexible immigration rules so the sector can attract the skills it needs to grow and secure reciprocal arrangements to ensure that UK nationals in seasonal sports – such as sailing and snowsports – can continue to work across the EU
• Exploit the opportunities created by Brexit to create a fair return from gambling to sport and use repatriated agricultural funds to provide more and better opportunities for outdoor recreation
• Maximise the soft power of British sport by continuing to fund elite success, bidding for major sporting events and exploiting Britain’s global sporting influence to build new international relationships
• Keep the UK the destination of choice for sports fans and visitors by making short-term travel to and from the EU simple, cheap and easy
• Minimise barriers to trade in sporting goods and services to keep prices for everyday sports items affordable, facilitate the cross-border transport of sports equipment and support the growth of UK sports businesses
• Enable UK sports bodies to have continued access to dedicated EU sports funding or introduce a replacement domestic scheme using repatriated funds
Deal or no deal?
Yet while we continue to plan on the basis that there will be an agreement on the UK’s withdrawal and an orderly transition to a new relationship, there remains the distinct possibility of a no deal Brexit in which the UK crashes out of the EU on 29 March 2019.
So, what would be the practical implications of a no deal Brexit for sport and recreation?
A quick glance at the government’s technical notices in the event of no deal indicates that in the short-to-medium term, there would be significant disruption to the flow of people, goods and services across borders – coupled with significant legal and regulatory uncertainty for organisations operating in the sector.
This disruption would pose particular challenges for sporting events taking place around Brexit day, which could involve British teams and large flows of fans between the UK and other EU member states.
High profile fixtures falling into this category include the quarter finals of rugby’s Champions Cup (29-31 March) and the quarter finals of the UEFA Champions League (9-17 April). The UK is also hosting the Netball World Cup and Cricket World Cup between May and July 2019.
The government’s no deal advice makes clear that UK citizens seeking to travel to the EU after Brexit should ensure passports have at least six months validity remaining to comply with expected border checks and, if necessary, to renew as soon as possible to avoid the expected high demand on the passport issuing service.
With only four months left until Brexit day, that’s not much time. As third country nationals, UK citizens would also be subject to additional border checks entering and exiting the EU.
In addition to tighter border controls, athletes and sports fans may even find themselves unable to travel to and from the continent in the event of a no deal Brexit.
In a no deal Brexit, airlines would lose the automatic right to operate air services between the UK and EU. Airlines wishing to operate flights would instead have to seek individual permissions to operate from the respective countries involved. In the worst-case scenario, if such permissions were not granted, flights would be disrupted.
The temporary movement of sporting goods would also be affected in the event of no deal. The UK would be considered a third country for customs purposes in the EU and any movements of sporting goods – even for temporary or non-commercial use – to and from the EU would be subject to customs controls.
UK sports bodies would also be affected by a no deal in less obvious ways. A huge amount of sport-related activity is now underpinned by data.
As a member of the EU, the UK benefits from a common data protection framework – principally the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) – which supports the free flow of data between organisations based in different member states and other influential countries – such as the US and Canada.
In a no deal scenario, the UK would become a third country from March 2019 and therefore fall outside the legal framework provided for by GDPR.
For data transfers between the UK and EU to continue uninterrupted, they would need to be underpinned by an alternative legal basis. This could prove a significant challenge for UK sports governing bodies, which, as regulators, rely on access to personal data – often from overseas bodies – to investigate breaches of integrity rules relating to doping and betting.
Clearly these are just some of challenges that could be thrown up by a no deal Brexit.
The next few months will be critical to whether no deal remains just a nightmare before Christmas or becomes a frightening new reality, but either way, it’s important that organisations within the sector understand the risks to every aspect of their business and put in place contingency plans to mitigate the impact.