LONDON – English Premier League clubs owners urged the government on Thursday to explore measures to protect the competition from being damaged by Britain's impending departure from the European Union.
With the British government insisting it must regain the right to control immigration and end free movement from the EU bloc, the ability of England's top soccer clubs to sign players from Europe could be impeded.
After a meeting of executives from the Premier League's 20 clubs, the owners of Stoke and West Ham called for immigration exemptions to preserve the flow of top footballers from the continent.
"We'd expect them to be included (in exemptions), but we have to wait and see," Stoke owner Peter Coates said. "In Europe, we can get free movement and that will change, or may change, I don't know. We don't know."
The English Football Association two years ago persuaded the government to adopt tougher visa requirements for players trying to sign from outside Europe. But Premier League clubs feel they could be put at a competitive disadvantage in Europe, where they can qualify for UEFA competitions, if they cannot easily trade in talent from the continent.
The uncertainty could exist as the terms for the dissolution of Britain's 44-year relationship with the EU are formalized before the exit deadline on March 29, 2019.
"The Premier League is the greatest league the world has ever known," West Ham co-chairman David Gold said. "It's a fantastic advert for Britain, for England. I know people talk about the wealth that's there, but these guys (players) are on huge salaries and all the tax is going into the exchequer (treasury). Why would you stifle that? Why would you want that to change?
"It's a great advert. The Premier League goes around the world and it's ever expanding. I don't see a government doing something potty (daft) to disturb that. I don't know about free movement but the structure would be that the best players would receive work permits."
The FA has highlighted a potential advantage of Brexit being more opportunities for homegrown players in Premier League teams, swelling the pool of English talent for a national team whose only major title came at the 1966 World Cup.
The two-year process that will end with Britain exiting the EU was triggered on Wednesday but the more immediate impact has been a collapse in the pound since the June 2016 referendum.
"It's already affecting us because players are more expensive to buy because of the pound," Gold said.
Premier League executive chairman Richard Scudamore, who endorsed the campaign to remain in the EU, said he would not comment on the impact of Brexit as he left the meeting of his 20 teams at a London hotel.
Coates, who owns gambling firm Bet365 along with Stoke, was a high-profile proponent of staying in the EU.
"I'm pessimistic about leaving," Coates said. "Nothing's changed my mind. Hopefully, football will find a way of looking after itself."
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