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Does Theresa May support the Premier League?

Wednesday 22 March 2017

An expert in global football has told Theresa May that she needs to be clearer about what her policy towards the sport will be in a post Brexit world.

The Prime Minister is expected to trigger Article 50 next week, and start the process of Britain leaving the EU. Writing in the Conversation, Simon Chadwick, Professor of Sports Enterprise at the University of Salford says much is still unclear about how the Government sees the future of football, despite the fact Brexit is likely to have a huge impact on the sports finances and ability to attract the best players, and its use as an instrument of soft power.

He writes: “There are some major issues of public policy linked to football that May needs to say something about but which, thus far, she and her government have said very little.

“Britain needs to avoid a parochial view of seeing football simply as a sport. Globally, energy policy, trade deals and international relations are increasingly and inextricably intertwined with and driven by the sport. Britain must be cautious to ensure that its football industry is not caught-out by its more proactive, nimble-footed global competitors, such as China or Russia.

“The most obvious issue is the impact Brexit may have on football, especially as the sport is an important strategic asset for Britain, and an activity in which the country retains a global competitive advantage. For some time, there has been speculation about what post-Brexit British football might look like, the issues faced ranging from player and coach work permits through to currency flows into and out of the game.

“However, the Brexit challenges confronting English football have still to be publicly acknowledged, let alone dealt with by the government. Yet this matter is pressing, especially when there are jobs, tax revenues and the sport’s contribution to the British economy at stake. Even more so, given that the British government has recently been proactively utilising football as a means of exercising its international soft power influence.

“While the British government might think that it is ahead of the game when it comes to soft power, the ambitions of China have served as a reminder that British football is not invincible. Once more, there has been government silence on the growing number of English clubs now owned by Chinese owners.

“The British parliament recently passed a vote of no confidence in the FA, casting serious doubts upon the organisation’s fitness for purpose.

“With Brexit looming if British football is to simultaneously address its domestic malaise whilst confronting the challenges posed by the likes of China, its governing body needs to be robust, adaptive and capable of ensuring the sport’s long-term health. Indeed, if Britain’s football is to continue generating much needed revenues from sponsorships, commercial contracts and media deals, it needs to get its house in order – racism, sexism, abuse and corruption do not make for a great global brand proposition.

“Whether May and, for that matter, fans like it, in the 21st century football is more than a game. If Britain is not to lose its competitive advantage in the sport, then the government needs to start taking the public policy issues surrounding football much more seriously.”

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Sam Wood

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