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Sport in Case of 'Brexit'

Posted: Mon, 07 Mar 2016 09:49

Sport in Case of 'Brexit'

So what effect will Brexit have on British sport? Sport has a special relationship with society – we refer to it as the 'specificity' of sport – we acknowledge and value the role of sport in engendering national pride, promoting social integration, in education, in the health and wellbeing of the nation, young and old.

We accord sport organisations special tax concessions, we underpin sport with expenditure from the public purse and we encourage investment, enterprise and philanthropy with the purpose of achieving those sporting ends which we acknowledge and value.

None of this could be achieved without a very special sporting attitude which goes to the core of the relationship with the world beyond our borders and that is 'harmonisation'. The harmonisation of systems of sports rules is what allows universal sports competition to take place and it is such a natural characteristic that we seldom give it any thought.

'Harmonisation' is also one of the core principles of the European Union, it is the idea of a 'level playing field' or 'playing by the same rules' and whilst these principles are used to describe attitudes to trade and commerce they are terms which are drawn from the field of sport. It is unsurprising then that the relationship between the EU and sport encompasses harmonisation and that the relationship is a very natural one.

Our expectation might therefore be that the effects of Brexit on British sport will be largely benign. But is that the case or are we in danger of being complacent and sleepwalking into the permanent and irreversible marginalisation of British sport? To answer this question we need to carefully look at the effect of Brexit on the multiple facets of British sport, amateur and professional, youth and adult, on individuals and organisations, on participants and spectators, on government, on broadcasters.

Many commentators will have unique insights from their areas of expertise and they will no doubt be aired in the coming weeks. For my part, between now and the referendum on 23 June 2016, I will contribute several blog pieces on the broader issues as I see them from my pro-European perspective. First of all we need to have a clear understanding of the mechanism and timeframe for Brexit.

The mechanism for leaving is actually quite simple – a formal notification must be given by the State wishing to leave to the European Council. That notice triggers a 2 year time frame in which the details of the exit must be agreed – that agreement will attempt to establish what form any relationship will take following withdrawal and there is a 2 year deadline for agreement – if agreement is not reached then the State is automatically excluded from obligations and benefits under the terms of EU Treaties and takes on the relationship of a 3rd country such as Russia or Turkey.

The exit negotiation itself takes place as if the UK was a 3rd country, as per Article 218 of the Treaty and the 2 year period can be extended provided the European Council (i.e. all remaining countries) unanimously agree to an extension. Given the commitment of Prime Minister Cameron to give notice of withdrawal, to the European Council, immediately following a no vote to remain on 23 June 2016, it gives us an effective date of 1 July 2018 to get the post EU British ducks in a row.

The starting point for an emerging 'British Sport Policy' has to be the idea of 'harmonisation' because there is no point in the UK adopting anything other than a harmonising strategy because all other roads lead to isolation and thus the diminution of the role of sport in British society. This leads us naturally to the Lisbon Treaty and very particularly the way the Treaty relates to EU Sports Policy.

It will be essential for any emerging UK sports policy to be in harmony with developing EU sports policy and it's entirely possible that the Brexit 2 year negotiation will include an absolute commitment by the UK to adhere to the articles relating to sport in the Lisbon Treaty.

In my next blog I will begin to pick apart the interests of individuals, clubs and organisations and explore the possible effects of Brexit on them.

Steve Lawrence is an English architect and co-founder of a football data analytics and spatial development consultancy with clients including AFC Ajax, Amsterdam and Cruyff Football, Barcelona.

Tags: Sport, Policy

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