Brexit and sport: who is keeping the score?


Grant Jarvie and Paul Widdop

What does Brexit mean for Scottish sport?

The landscape of Scottish sport will be changed as result of the Brexit decision to leave Europe.

As at June 2016 

  • Approximately 50 players from the EU  will start next seasons Scottish Premier ship.
  • At least 15 different EU nationalities likely to be represented in the Scottish Premiership.
  • If you play for one of the top 50 countries in the world and have played 75% of your countries competitive games your chances of getting an SFA work permit are higher.
  • From, Bosman, to Webster, to fair pay EU law has protected players rights, pay and mobility.
  • Athletes have already asked if the 2016 Olympics in Rio De Janeiro will be the last UK team at the Olympics.12 Scottish athletes have qualified for the 2016 Olympics.
  • Funding for the National sports agency is primarily government funding.

When the Sport for All charter was adopted back in 1975, the Council of Europe made a clear statement that it would focus on participation and the fundamental right of all people to participate. By 2007 sport had been  recognized as a key European competency within the Lisbon Treaty.

In June 2016, the same month as the UK voted to leave Europe, The Council of Europe recommended that EU member states should focus the priorities of their sports policies on sport participation, collaboration between public institutions and the development of grassroots sport.

The resolution adopted by the European Assembly in June started by noting that sport is one of the most popular activities in European societies and that it had a continuing role to play not just in developing health but social cohesion, education, youth, non-discrimination, and the reception and integration of migrants.

 In doing so The European Assembly was asking equality bodies and national human rights institutions to co-operate in combating discrimination in sport, promote co-operation in running awareness-raising activities, as well as authorizing these bodies to participate in legal actions brought against perpetrators of discrimination.

It was also asking that sports wealth be redistributed in a much more just and equitable way. That rich sports associations initiate deliberations together with grassroots sports organisations on a better way to redistribute the revenues generated by top-level professional sport – especially by the major sports events that attract large television audiences – in order to allocate a greater percentage of those revenues to projects aimed at improving access to sport for all.

There is a correlation between a nation’s wealth and the number of infrastructure facilities that enable people to engage in leisure or competition sports (gymnasiums, playing-fields, swimming-pools, skate parks, fitness studios, facilities for outdoor sports, etc.) Scotland has invested heavily in sports facilities but the landscape of Scottish sport will be changed as result of the decision to leave Europe.

Free Movement and Risk 

If the negotiations protect the free movement of athletes, golfers, footballers, rugby players and specialist sports personnel within the sports industry then Scotland will continue to benefit from access to European professional sport markets and expertise.

But if the negotiations between the UK and Europe, Scotland and Europe and/ or Scotland and the UK do not protect the current free movement of sports personnel and expertise then the landscape of Scottish sport is about to change.

Work Permits

Some 400 football players are working in the top two divisions in England and Scotland. Hearts and Inverness are but two of many Scottish Premier League teams that have significantly benefitted from work permits being issued to players from other European Union (EU) countries.

Player Transfers and Worker Rights

Former Hearts and Scotland defender Andy Webster gave the name to the Webster ruling on the status and transfer of players established under article 17 of FIFA’S regulations.

Article 17 was created by FIFA and the European Union to give professional players the same rights as other EU workers.

Webster became the first footballer to invoke article 17 and released himself from his contract with Hearts in 2006.

Will such rights for sports workers be protected in the negotiations involving the Scottish Government?


FIFA regulations allow EU clubs to sign 16 and 17 year olds. Countries outside of the EU are only allowed to sign players over 18.

Brexit could mean the end of any influx of teenage players from the European Union who would be deemed to be homegrown players, developed in Scotland, with the clubs benefitting financially and culturally from having such players in their ranks.

Scottish players may of course get more opportunities but Scottish football although it has many aspirations is not yet as marketable and as financially strong as the top five European football leagues.

The top European clubs are not generally made up totally of home-grown players and it requires considerable financial strength to purchase such players.


In rugby the foreign player rule does not currently apply to players from EU countries that have an association agreement. Brexit will impact upon Scottish rugby players wanting to join clubs in Europe.

Several members of the Scottish rugby team currently on tour in Japan play in other European countries.

More Expensive Players

Economic instability, slow economic growth and the value of sterling would Scottish economy that would make it more expensive for Scottish Clubs to sign European players.

Scottish players could become less appealing to European teams because they would impact upon three non-EU rule where European football clubs are only allowed to sign three non EU players.

Funding for Scottish Sport

And what if the Brexit result leads to an independent Scotland? The arguments about Scottish sport aired during the Scottish referendum could come back into play.

The degree of UK sport funding allocated to Scotland through the Barnett formula or UK Lottery funding would come under increased scrutiny. The Welsh First Minister has already called for a more equitable agreement.

The likelihood being that less money could be made available to Scotland because unlike with the Smith Agreement which came into play following on from the 2014 Scottish Referendum it is unclear if Scottish sport and other areas of public life would be protected by no detriment clauses that protected Scotland within The Smith Agreement.

A distinct worry would be the potential of less funding being made available to sport and physical activity, for example, through the allocation of funding to sportscotland or grassroots sports.

The Olympics

A further Brexit impact triggered by an independence referendum would be the make up of future Great Britain Olympic teams. 12 Scottish athletes have qualified for the 2016 Olympics.

According to one report many athletes seemed to have voted to remain with some expressing fear that Brexit could spell the end of Team GB.

The free movement of students established under European social mobility schemes such as Erasmus could end for British students going to Europe and European students entering Scottish Universities.

Student Sport and Knowledge Exchange

The funding of European research projects which have promoted scientific and technological advance, collaboration and knowledge exchange between member states could exclude Scottish Universities. Few dedicated sports research streams of funding are open to Universities.

The British Council Erasmus Plus funding for sports collaboration and exchange is one such income stream that would be threatened.


There is no aspect of public life that will be untouched by a Brexit vote that has already triggered a multitude of different avenues of negotiation at a time when stability and economic growth are the much needed order of the day.

Sport in Scotland is not immune from Brexit consequentials and the material and cultural vitality of Scottish sport is threatened by the decision to leave the European Union.

Athlete and Activist – Muhammad Ali (1942-2016)


Grant Jarvie

Although he won  56 out of  61 fights,  the Olympic title, was crowned world champion three times and acclaimed athlete of the 20th century, it was the combination of athleticism. humanitarianism and activism that made Ali the greatest.

In his later years the athlete and activist softened some of his views. He rejected the racial separatism promoted by the Nation of Islam. The American establishment, rather than fearing him, came to love him. But, by then, he had already made a matchless contribution to American history as an athlete who changed his sport, and as an activist who contributed to changing his country and spoke out against injustices when others did not.

He was courageous inside and outside of the boxing ring. 

He was an athlete and an activist and those athletes in the contemporary era who take on social and political responsibilities should be respected as both athletes and activists. 

 Impact and Inspiration

 “Muhammad Ali let me know I could have opinions and express them. I cannot do justice in words to express what that meant to a young black kid growing up in Alabama”

Basketball great Charles Barkley talking of Muhammad Ali’s impact on his life 

 “At a time when blacks who spoke up about injustice were labelled uppity and often arrested under one pretext or another, Muhammad willingly sacrificed the best years of his career to stand tall and fight for what he believed was right. In doing so, he made all Americans, black and white, stand taller. I may be 7ft 2in but I never felt taller than when standing in his shadow.”

Former basketball player Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

In his own words:

 Ali on racism

 “Giving up a chance at the Olympics and a gold medal is a big sacrifice but anything they do that’s designated to get freedom and equality for their people, I’m with 1,000 per cent”.

Talking about the the Olympic Project for Human Rights and the 1968 Mexico Protest

“Hating people because of their colour is wrong. And it doesn’t matter which colour does the hating. It’s just plain wrong”.

“I know I got it made while the masses of black people are catchin’ hell, but as long as they ain’t free. I ain’t free”.

On Vietnam War and the Supreme Court

 “I ain’t got no quarrel with them Viet Cong”.

“I’m not going 10,000 miles from home to help murder and burn another poor nation simply to continue the domination of white slave masters of the darker people the world over.”

“I will not disgrace my religion, my people or myself by becoming a tool to enslave those who are fighting for their own justice, freedom and equality”.

 Tributes to Muhammad Ali 

 Al Sharpton

“To my generation he made it real,” Civil rights leader.

Nicola Adams

“Boxing’s greatest of all time, an inspiration to me and so many people”- Flyweight World Champion.

 Bernice King

“You were a champion in so many ways. You ‘fought’ well. Rest well.” – Bernice King, daughter of civil rights leader Martin Luther King

Martin Luther king Jr

“He is giving up millions of dollars to do what his conscience tells him is right”.

Angelo Dundee

“Cleveland Williams, that was a great fight but the greatest he ever looked was against Folley and if he had gone on from there, there is no telling”.

Angelo Dundee talking about the last fight before the 3-and-a-half-year exile.

Hugh Mcilvanney

“He was the greatest figure in my professional life”.

Michelle and Barak Obama

“A man who fought for us. He stood with King and Mandela; stood up when it was hard. His fight outside the ring would cost him his title. It would earn him enemies on the left and the right. But Ali stood his ground. And his victory helped us to get used to the America we recognise today- he spoke out when others would not”

Barak Obama on what Muhammad Ali meant to me

 Cathy Freeman

“Muhammad Al represents and symbolises greatness for all the world over”.

Hilary and Bill Clinton

“We watched him grow from the brash self-confidence of youth and success into a manhood full of religious and political convictions that led him to make tough choices and live with the consequences. Along the way we saw him courageous in the ring, inspiring to the young, compassionate to those in need, and strong and good-humored in bearing the burden of his own health challenges”.

The Brief Fact File


Cassius Marcella Clay born 17 January in Louisville and named after a prominent 19th century abolitionist.


Amateur boxing debut.


Wins Olympic Gold Medal, Rome.

Makes his professional boxing debut.


Attends first Nation of Islam meeting.


Meets Malcolm X.


Fights Henry Cooper in the UK.


Becomes world heavyweight champion after being 7-1 underdog.

Joins the Nation of Islam.


Re-match with Sonny Liston in front of only a few thousand people.


Defends his title 5 times.

Re-match with Henry Cooper.


Stripped of heavyweight title for refusing US draft, handed a five year suspended sentence, a 10,000 US dollar fine and banned from travelling abroad. Remains free while appealing the conviction.

New York State Athletic commission suspends his boxing licence.


Speaks at anti-war rally in San Francisco.


US supreme court hands back his boxing licence.


Loses world title to Joe Frazier.

Conviction for draft dodging reversed by US Supreme Court.


By November had won ninth comeback fight since losing to Frazier.

Visits the Republic of Ireland, defeats Al Lewis at Croke Park.


Wins back world heavyweight title from George Foreman.

A man denounced as anti-American in 1967 is now invited to the White House.


Wins rematch with Joe Frazier.


Loses his title to Leon Spinks in February and regains it seven months later.

Becomes first man in the world to win Heavyweight Championship of the World three times.


Announces retirement for the first time.


Loses to Larry Holmes his former sparring partner, in a fight that many state should never have taken place.


Public learn of the athlete and activist suffering from Parkinson’s disease.


Helps in the release of 15 hostages from Iraq.


Visits Glasgow for the second time, the first being in 1965.


Lights the torch at the Atlantic Olympic Games and is returned his Olympic medal thrown away or lost in 1960.


Visit to deliver humanitarian aid to Cuba. Ali was on his second visit to Cuba  in two years, where he delivered to a Havana hospital a donation of more than $1.2 million of medical aid from a U.S. humanitarian organisation, the Disarm Education Fund.

Named UN messenger of peace for his work in developing countries.


Named BBC Sports personality of the 20th century collecting more votes than George Best, Pele, Sir Donald Bradman, Jack Nicklaus and Jesse Owens put together.


Awarded President’s Citizens Medal.


Visits Kabul as UN Peace ambassador.


Joins Mandela ay the special Olympics held in Dublin.


Awarded The Presidential Medal of Freedom.


Attends Barack Obama’s inauguration having saluted him at celebratory party days before.


Makes appearance at the opening ceremony of the London Olympic Games


Muhammad Ali passed away 4 May in Phoenix, Arizona, aged 74.