Unmarked and unheralded, February 1 brought a career-altering moment for many British basketballers.

It was the date, in a number of European Union countries, that Brexit truly and effectively arrived.

When players from the UK, hitherto free to roam as they pleased since the Bosman era and freedom of movement began, were converted into the status of ‘foreigners’ in many of the major leagues where they ply their trade.

Now lumped together for the purpose of quotas on imports with Americans, Australians and much of the rest of the world, their position on the job market once this season concludes has changed – and not for the better.

According to Dave Owen’s excellent database, of the 51 British males playing at senior levels overseas, only two – Gabe Olaseni in Turkey and Ben Lawson in Japan – are presently earning their corn outwith the broader European Economic Area.

A handful of others are dual nationals, including the Brothers van Oostrum in the Netherlands and Dwayne Lautier-Ogunleye in France. Only a fortuitous few have acquired residency through prolonged stays (step forward Dan Clark).

For most, however, their rights and privileges have been removed. They will be now require a work visa within the EU, just as EU nationals now need one coming into the UK.

And while players signed before February 1 will be allowed to see out their current contracts without any change to the status, Brexit will bring challenges come the summer – and beyond.

“British players with a contract that is under way or who were resident in Spain before December 31 2020 will have the EU rules applied,” Irene Librado, the Federacion Espanola de Baloncesto’s head of licensing said.

“So that they don’t have issues if they leave the country after February 1, they will have carry their resident permit that allows them to identify themselves at the border without any problem, But if they haven’t acquired a residents permit before that date, they could have issues at the border.”

It raises an interesting issue that has not quite yet been clarified, one other federation revealed. Even for players who extend their contracts this summer and retain a EU place for the purposes of quotas may cede their residency privileges if they return to the UK or head off on international duty for too long.

Plus, some will now be in a bind. Stay put, and there are immense perks. Move on, even elsewhere in the EU, and there will be no favours retained. “If someone leaves Spain to sign a contract in another country (in 2021-22) and then returns here in a future season, the rights will be lost,” Librado underlined.

That could make it a real bun fight for those players – the majority – who are picking up valuable, if not mammoth, gigs in the lower divisions through out Europe.

Spain’s ACB, the crown jewels of European leagues, is holding discussions with the FEB to up its non-EU quota to three next term but with a parallel increase of the number of Spanish-trained players per roster to five – a move seen as necessary to address a number of foreigners which has moved above 70 per cent across the league.

That particular revision will potentially aid the young Great Britain internationalists, Jacob Round and Kareem Queeley, who – like Clark before them – moved to Spain at a young age and who are considered to have been developed there.

With 14 exports in total, Spain is the largest destination for Brits but Clark is the only Brit presently active in the ACB. That means a lot of employment centred in the tiers below: LEB Gold and Silver, and the semi-pro EBA.

Gold has two foreign spots, the same as the women’s first division, La Liga Femenina. Silver and EBA have just one. All are traditional breeding grounds for young Brits. Easy access is no longer available.

Some nations retain fewer restrictions. France has a generous import quota in its Jeep Elite League with Britons, for now, still counted in the same Bosman B category as those from elsewhere in Europe, like Serbia. They can fill one of the three allowed players in Pro B, the third tier which has proven a popular landing spot.

Germany, home to six British males including Luke Nelson in the BBL – plus Eilidh Simpson in the women’s Bundesliga tallies all foreigners together. Six in the top divisions, three in Pro A and one in Pro B. You have to go down to the Regionaliga, where former GB guard Joe Hart presently resides, before roadblocks properly come with a sole non-EU spot allowed.

Work permits for new arrivals will, for most, be the primary concern. “We, the sports federation, take the decision of the state,” Jochen Boehmcker of the Deutscher Basketball Bund relates.

“If the state decides that a British player has permanent residence rights in Germany, then he does not need a work permit and we treat him in the regional league as an EU player.

“If, on the other hand, the state decides that the player does not enjoy permanent residence rights, then he needs a work permit and the rules for non-EU players apply.

“I cannot predict how our state will decide the individual cases. Basically, it follows from the withdrawal agreement that such Britons who want to live permanently in Germany are welcome to do so. And that such Britons who only want to live in Germany for a short time (e.g. for a basketball season) do not acquire any special rights.”

Ironically, anyone wanting to play in Brussels has a better shot too. “As far as work permit goes, UK players are now also considered ‘third country nationals’, and thus must meet the conditions of professional non-EU players,” Tom van de Keere of the Belgian League, who also enforce the six non-national quota, said.

And yet it is not solely about ducking inside the allowed overseas limits. Many nations, including Spain, impose higher licence costs for non-EU players and coaches. The price of work permits varies too but they rarely come cheap.

Before, a general manager could eye up someone from Manchester and Madrid and choose based on talent and need. Now there is a price differential – and perhaps even a salary minimum – on top.

Adds van de Keere: “As of 1 January 2021 British players are subject to the minimum wage limit for non-EU players which is set around €81.000.”

What, you may ask, about those travelling in the opposite direction: across the Channel, North Sea or Northern Irish border?

The latter a non-factor due to the continued Common Travel Area. The others, now complicated and subject to change.

The BBL rules presently permit “5 foreigner players, regardless of their nationality, plus 5 home grown” per club.

Europeans and Americans and anyone else, all in a fair fight for jobs. “The way our rules are currently set up allows for that,” BBL chief operating officer, Andy Webb affirms. “We don’t need to make a rule change to allow European players to come to the BBL.”

However, from this summer, a Frenchman or Lithuanian will be subject to the acquisition of a work visa. At a cost. And with red tape hassles.

Plus, just as any company looking to bring in hired help from overseas must demonstrate that the individual adds ‘special talent’, UK teams seeking to sign EU nationals may need to prove they have merit beyond those already here.

One to watch. “There is ongoing dialogue at the moment between the Home Office and the governing body,” Webb added.

Photos: Ahmedphotos, Annie Spratt on Unsplash

This story originally appeared in The Post Up – MVP’s regular email newsletter with exclusive news and features – Subscribe today.

Share and Enjoy:
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • MySpace
  • Print

You must be logged in to post a comment Login