England fear Brexit could harm bids for soccer tournaments

LONDON: The English Football Association fears that Britain's exit from the European Union will make it harder to win bids to host major tournaments.

Although only half of the 55 members of European soccer's governing body are in the EU, FA chairman Greg Clarke is concerned that England might find it tougher to build alliances as a result of the Brexit vote.

England failed with bids for the World Cup in 2006 and then 2018, but did win the right to host the semifinals and final at the first continent-wide European Championship in 2020. Europe might have to wait until 2034 to be in line for another World Cup after Russia in 2018, but England could target a full European Championship before then.

Clarke said he was mulling "what Brexit does to our chances of a future tournament" as he flew back from England's first qualifier for the 2018 World Cup in Slovakia on Sunday.

"Can we count on EU support or will they vote for EU nations (for tournaments) in the future? I don't know the answer to that, but we have to get to the bottom of that," Clarke said.

"We have to build relations directly within UEFA now and not rely on the support of the EU nations because they might say we've got an EU member who wants it this year. So it's doubly important to have really strong relationships in UEFA and FIFA and I'm going to be working hard at that."

The FA might have to "slightly change our tactics for getting a tournament," Clarke said.

"It might be jointly hosted with an EU member," he added of a potential bid. "We are thinking about those things."

Clarke was speaking at an event hosted by football anti-discrimination group Kick It Out , whose chairman Herman Ouseley spoke out about discriminatory incidents in Britain since the divisive EU referendum in June when 52 percent voted to leave the 28-nation bloc.

The more immediate impact of Brexit, once Britain formally triggers the two-year countdown to leave the EU, will be how any new visa and immigration system affects the flow of foreign players into the English Premier League.

"We know what the threats and what the opportunities are," Clarke said. "We will move to engage our partners in Europe and the government and the agencies and others to make the best of it for English football."

Clarke started as FA chairman last week. Here are other issues he touched on at his first media briefing:

England team

Clarke is scrubbing the firm target set by predecessor Greg Dyke that England must emulate its 1966 World Cup triumph in 2022.

England exited Euro 2016 with a humiliating round of 16 loss to Iceland, leading to Roy Hodgson being replaced as manager by Sam Allardyce.

"I'm not going to put pressure on Sam and say we are going to win this tournament or that tournament," Clarke said. "But I want to see a competitive team."

So the clock counting down to the 2022 finals in Qatar could go from the England team headquarters.

"That clock's daft," Clarke said.

England made a winning start to World Cup qualifying, scoring in stoppage time to beat Slovakia 1-0 in Allardyce's first match in charge.

Rooney retirement

England captain Wayne Rooney announced last week that he will retire from international duty after the World Cup in Russia. Clarke hopes he changes he mind.

"I note that (Argentina captain Lionel) Messi retired and then decided to come back again," Clarke said. "If you are good enough, Sam will pick you. So if (Rooney) changes his mind, if he has a good World Cup and Wayne thinks to himself 'I fancy a bit more of that' and Sam wants to pick him, why wouldn't he (continue playing)?"