'Football Manager 2017' Video Game 'Knows More About Brexit' Than Ministers

Tom Watson says ministers less clear than software developers
Sports Interactive

The developers of the Football Manager 2017 video game have thought harder about Brexit than Government ministers, Labour’s Tom Watson has declared.

The Shadow Culture, Media and Sport Secretary hit out after a string of Parliamentary questions yielded no clarity on how footballers and other sportsmen and women would be treated after the UK quits the EU.

The latest version of the popular Football Manager game includes a range of “Brexit scenarios” for players, including options from no migration to work permits under special conditions.

British game firm Sports Interactive modelled a number of different scenarios for what might happen to the immigration rules around foreign players, the impact on the football transfer market and on the ability of top clubs in the UK to attract the best players.

Watson tabled Parliamentary questions about the impact on professional sport of the same scenarios modelled by the game from “soft” to “hard” Brexit.

In-game, players of Football Manager 2017 are alerted at some point between two and 10 years in that trade negotiations have begun, and a year later a news bulletin details the extent of Brexit.

There are three main scenarios:

1 Soft Brexit - free movement of workers remains.

2 Footballers are granted the same special exemptions that are currently given to ‘entertainers’. This means it is easier for them to obtain work permits than other people, and it will not have a huge impact on player movement from the EU.

3 Hard Brexit: similar rules to those which currently apply to non-EU players are adopted for all non-UK players.

In recent weeks, Watson asked ministers separate Parliamentary questions about each individual scenario.

But in their replies, ministers were unable to say anything about what the post-Brexit rules might be, or what effect they might have on sport including top-flight football.

Watson said told HuffPost UK: “Some people look down their noses at computer games, but it turns out that the games industry is thinking harder about Brexit than ministers are.

Shadow Culture Secretary Tom Watson
Shadow Culture Secretary Tom Watson
Bloomberg via Getty Images

“If games developers like those responsible for Football Manager 2017 can work out that this is worth taking seriously, Theresa May and her ministers should start doing the same.

“The kind of Brexit deal we end up with will have huge implications for all aspects of life in the UK, from the prices we pay in the shops to the rights we have at work to the nationalities of the players who are allowed to play for our football clubs.

“Professional sport in the UK and our successful computer games industry are just two of the many sectors of our economy who desperately want answers from the Government about what Brexit means - it’s time the Tories started coming up with some.”

1. ‘Soft Brexit’ scenario.

Sports minister Tracey Crouch, answering on behalf of the Culture Secretary Karen Bradley, said: “The UK’s negotiations for exiting the EU are complex and the Government is focused on securing the best deal for Britain.

“Together with the Department for Exiting the EU, we are analysing all the impacts of leaving the EU and have discussed areas of interest with sporting stakeholders.”

2. The ‘entertainers’ exemption.

Immigration minister Robert Goodwill could only reply: “The precise way in which the Government will control the movement of EU nationals following the UK’s exit from the EU is yet to be determined.”

3. The ‘hard Brexit’ option.

Crouch said: “The UK’s negotiations for exiting the EU are complex and the Government is focused on securing the best deal for Britain.

“Together with the Department for Exiting the EU, we are analysing all the impacts of leaving the EU and have discussed areas of interest with sporting stakeholders.

The decision to include the feature was made immediately after the UK’s vote on EU membership in June, according to Miles Jacobson, the game’s director at UK games firm Sports Interactive.

He told the BBC last month: “I started working on the feature on the Saturday morning after the vote. I was trying to work out how it would affect my business and the sport that I love.

“I sat on the sofa for two days reading as much as I could from the pro- and anti-Brexit camps.”

Jacobson said that he went into the office the following Monday and told his team, despite the game’s features having already been finalised, that he wanted to include the Brexit scenarios in the finished title.

“The fact that this is going to happen in the next few years means that it really has to be in the game,” he said.

But Jacobsen and his team tweaked the game after Theresa May’s conference speech.

Miles Jacobsen
Miles Jacobsen
David Vintiner

“When we were working on it, the idea of a hard Brexit had a lower chance of happening than is now the case - we changed that with the Tory conference,” said Mr Jacobson.

Changes were also made following Nicola Sturgeon’s decision to set out plans for a second independence referendum.

In one scenario run by the game, the UK has left the EU and Scotland voted to become an independent country, meaning regulations over work permits were relaxed slightly but were newly applied to EU nationals.

Sports Interactive

Earlier this year, Tory peer and West Ham chairwoman Karren Brady suggested that Brexit could force some EU players in the UK having to leave.

But former Football Association chairman Greg Dyke said this summer that Brexit could have a positive effect for English players looking for a chance to play in the Premier League.