Day 6

Why 'Brexit' could be a disaster for soccer fans

In less than a month, Brits will head to the polls to vote on whether to stay in the EU. The so-called 'Brexit' referendum has sparked a heated debate and divided the country. But anti-Brexit campaigner Daniel Julian is doing everything he can to unite voters around their love of football. He's one of the founders of Football Fans 4 EU, and he says Brexit could spell disaster for England's Premier League by driving out the international players who've transformed it into the world's most-watched soccer league.
Dan Julian says next month's Brexit vote could spell disaster for Britain's Premier League by driving out the international stars who have made it so exciting to watch.

Next month, British voters will head to the polls to determine whether or not Britain will remain in the European Union. As the June 23 referendum date approaches, the debate is growing increasingly heated.

Politicians on both sides of the so-called "Brexit" debate have focused their rhetoric around economic and foreign policy, sparring over everything from business to border control.

But Daniel Julian, a support officer for the outspoken anti-Brexit MP Daniel Zeichner, wants to break through that elitist debate and reach voters on a more populist level — by appealing to their love of football.

It would seriously damage the brand of the Premier League and the quality of English football as a whole.- Daniel Julian, UK Labour Party member and Football Fans 4 EU founder

He's warning that a Brexit could put the entire Premier League in jeopardy by pushing out foreign soccer stars and limiting players' freedom of movement. An E.U. exit could leave as many as 400 of the league's international players at risk of losing the right to play in the U.K.

Under the existing system, players from across the European Union can join Premier League clubs from the age of 16, allowing them to better adapt to the pace and unique tactics of British soccer. That increases their likelihood of becoming stars, Julian says.

"The worst case scenario is that young players would not be able to join premier league clubs like they can now," he tells Day 6 host Brent Bambury.

Chelsea soccer star Cesc Fabregas is one of many Premier League players who has benefited from the European free movement rules now threatened by Brexit. (The Associated Press)

"Fans would probably have to get visas to travel to go and watch European games. And it would seriously damage the brand of the Premier League and the quality of English football as a whole."

Big-name players that could be at risk of losing their right to play in Britain includes Dimitri Payet of West Ham and Leicester City's N'Golo Kante — both huge stars in this season's Premier League.

The case for Brexit

On the other side of the debate, Brexit supporters like Sol Campbell — a former Arsenal defender — say an exodus of international players could actually help the game by opening up more space for British players.

Speaking to CNBC London in April, Campbell expressed concern that the current system leaves little room for homegrown talent to succeed. 

"For me, it's all about the British players who are growing up through the ranks and having not the opportunity to succeed or fail," he said. "That's actually taking a lot of opportunity away from young, British players in the future."

In recent years, English players have been notoriously scarce on the field in the Premier League. Last year, Football Association chairman Greg Dyke went so far as to call them an endangered species.

By having big, star players, we make the quality of English football even better.-Daniel Julian, UK Labour Party member and Football Fans 4 EU founder

But not all Premier League fans feel British players are suffering from lack of opportunity. Julian points to massive British soccer stars like Harry Kane and Jamie Vardy as proof that English players are thriving in the League's existing setup.

Football Fans 4 Europe co-founder Dan Julian says the rise of British stars like Tottenham Hotspur's Harry Kane, pictured, wouldn't happen without fierce competition from international players. (John Walton/Associated Press)

"Harry Kane beating the likes of Wayne Rooney, Sergio Agüero, to become the top scorer in a very, very competitive league did not happen because there was no competition," he says. "By having big, star players, we make the quality of English football even better."

Weighing the costs

With over 4.7 billion viewers worldwide, the Premier League is the most-watched soccer league in the world. Julian warns an exodus of international players could lower the league's status outside Britain, leading to a damaging drop in TV revenue for the league. 

Of course, if the June 23 referendum does lead to a Brexit, there's no guarantee the rules will stay the same. Many argue the Premier League would find a way to protect its roster of international players — and its financial interests.  But with so much at stake, Julian says a "Yes" vote is a risk that football fans just can't take.

Count down to Brexit with this parody video from the Private Gentlemen's Yacht Club:

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