Paul's Column: the Great North Run and Brexit

29 August 2018

“Come on Lucinda!’ bellowed my Christian Aid colleague as I approached Heworth Roundabout.  Clearly one is not meant to take part in the Great North Run using a pseudonym but circumstances beyond my control that year necessitated this deviation from the race rules.  This year I’m legal and will be running under my own name, hoping to raise a reasonable sum for the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation, spurred on by the early death of a close friend’s husband from cancer. (You can sponsor me at www.justgiving.com/fundraising/paul-brannen1)

The world’s oldest and largest half marathon is a marvellous event by several measures.  For me it’s simply the sheer number of people running the 13.1 miles from Newcastle to the sea at South Shields.  Normally when I go out for a run I’ll pass half a dozen joggers who are far outweighed in number by pedestrians, cyclists and car drivers.  On Sunday 9th September there will be over 54,000 runners and we will be the majority.

My final days of training, including the recommended 8-mile practice run, will take place in Brussels as the European Parliament has now returned to business after the summer break.  This has the advantage that my teenage children are saved from the embarrassment of any of their school friends seeing their 55-year-old red-faced father struggling along the streets of Newcastle.

This embarrassment I can identify with.  Growing up on Tyneside in the late 1960s it’s fair to say that no one went jogging.  Actually two people went jogging.  One was Brendan Foster and the other was my dad.  On several occasions at school my sister and I were asked if our dad was Brendan Foster!

Next year’s Great North Run seems set to occur with the UK outside of the EU.  On the face of it Brexit won’t change the world’s largest half marathon. Or will it?  As each week goes by we discover more and more areas and ways in which Brexit will negatively impact the UK.  It’s the same for the GNR.  For instance every year we have runners from more than 80% of the world’s countries and after Brexit travelling to the UK is set to become more difficult.  Some of the world’s top runners who lead the field simply might not apply. Look at the recent experience of the organisers of various music and book festivals who have found tightening visa restrictions, including increased visa costs, discouraging global talent from participating in their events.

Sport in general could be adversely affected. Events might be less likely to be held in the UK as a result of the increased cost of visas for athletes and the reduced availability of staff at stadiums (for example, 25% of Twickenham staff on match days are EU27 citizens). The price of holding events in Britain could also go up. This may cause international sporting federations to look elsewhere when assessing bids for finals and other high profile sporting events.

The Premier league is worried about the loss of talent.  Already hit by additional costs for EU players due to the post-referendum fall in the pound, Premier League bosses have concerns over international player quotas (once there is no EU freedom of movement) which may reduce the quality of talent in top teams and reduce the lucrative TV rights income.

UK Sport has rejected funding claims for GB Badminton, archery, fencing, goal ball, table tennis, wheelchair rugby and weightlifting prior to the 2020 Olympics due to dual concerns about increased international costs after the post-Brexit fall in the pound, and fears that it will face further government funding costs post-Brexit.

Even the racing industry will see an impact. Ninety per cent of all free movement of racehorses takes place between Ireland, France and the UK  with 10,000 horses per year between the UK and Ireland alone. There are serious concerns that racehorses crossing borders will no longer be covered by the common EU rules and will be required to have veterinary checks and export licences, adding delays, red tape and considerable, damaging extra costs.

I’m sure the 2019 Great North Run will be a fantastic event but it will, almost certainly, be slightly diminished – not enhanced – by Brexit, as will the country as a whole.

Do you think the North East needs its own voice in the EU exit negotiations?

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