Uncertainty related to Brexit is having a negative impact on sailing, skiing and other sports that rely on free movement within the European Union, members of the House of Lords have been warned.
Experts representing national governing bodies, players’ associations and sports charities gave evidence today to a sub-committee hearing on what effect leaving the EU might have on the sector.
Debate had previously focused on what impact Brexit will have on the number of foreign footballers in the Premier League, but sub-committee members were told the real problems would occur further down the pyramid and in less high-profile areas.
Warnings about the possible impact on winter sports are particularly timely as the government has doubled the public investment in Great Britain’s Olympic and Paralympic teams at the 2018 Winter Games but been unable to provide answers on how British coaches will be able to continue working in the EU.
Brexit could also have a big impact on the UK’s ability to attract major events, possibly lead to higher ticket prices and have knock-on effects on the amount of money governing bodies can reinvest.
James Allen, director of policy at the Sport and Recreation Alliance (SRA), said a “complete lack of clarity” about post-Brexit arrangements on issues such as the compatibility of qualifications and reciprocal agreements on visas was causing alarm.
“We export significant numbers of people and expertise to the EU in terms of coaching, particularly in sailing and winter sports,” said Mr Allen.
“We do not know if we will still be able to do that. This is not theoretical – we are talking about real people who are thinking about how they will pay their mortgages.
“While British athletes at the Winter Games will have supported themselves to some extent during their careers, they will have relied on this British workforce at some point.
“Our concern is these people will look at the uncertainty and simply leave the industry to do something else.”
Mr Allen highlighted the impact this could have on sailing, too, as the Royal Yachting Association has about 250 training centres outside the UK that provide access to year-round sailing, employment for British coaches and support staff, and a revenue stream.
As well as this impact on seasonal workers, Mr Allen also raised the issue of skill shortages. For example, non-UK EU nationals make up about 11 per cent of the racing industry’s 7,000 grooms but there are already 1,000 vacancies in racing stables.
Another major concern for the SRA, the umbrella organisation for the UK’s national sport governing bodies, is the possibility of more red tape and longer queues for travel visas.
“This will not be an issue for the Premier League – if they need expert legal advice, they will get it and see it as a transactional cost,” said Mr Allen.
“But for lots of sports this could be a real barrier.”
Another giving evidence was the Rugby Football Union’s legal director Angus Bujalski. He said his concern with Brexit was not at the elite end, as he believed the top teams across all sports would continue to attract overseas talent, but on the negative impact on “those who help make sport happen”.