Bob Casey worried Brexit could push London Irish further from Ireland

Chief executive concerned about financial knock-on effects for club’s fans

London Irish chief executive and former Ireland international Bob Casey. Photograph: Jordan Mansfield/Getty Images

London Irish chief executive and former Ireland international Bob Casey. Photograph: Jordan Mansfield/Getty Images


Although London Irish RFC is known in shorthand as the Exiles, there is little desire from Bob Casey to see the club cast further adrift from Ireland.

The club’s chief executive, and former Ireland international, says there is concern that an exit by Britain from the European Union will affect London Irish in two ways – by further distancing it from Ireland, and the possible financial knock-on effects for its fans.

Casey was appointed to the position last year following a career which saw him play more than 200 times for the club, and he maintains a high profile amongst the Irish community in London. One of his aims in the job is to reestablish links with Irish rugby – specifically the IRFU – which have become disconnected in recent years, he said.

An exit could delay this progress.

By some estimates, according to Casey, there are more men qualified to play rugby for Ireland in the UK than in Ireland itself, through eligibility rules which say that players whose parents or grandparents were born in foreign countries can change to those sides.

His belief is that there should be more players from outside of the four provinces going through to the Ireland team, although the prospect of a Brexit could hamper those moves, he says, citing the broad uncertainty which would come into effect if the UK were to leave, in effect making the Exiles more exiled.

“Which is exactly what we don’t want,” he said. “Will a Brexit slow those talks down? Will there be uncertainty around it and how will it affect it?”

Concern about the potential movement of players has emerged in football in the UK. Agents have claimed that a large number of football players in the English Premier League will need work permits in order to turn out for their teams.

Although there are 12 different nationalities playing for London Irish, Casey describes the core values of the club as Irish, although they remain “Exiles”. A consortium of Irish businessmen took over the club in 2013, led by Mick Crossan, the chairman of Powerday, its primary sponsor.

With those close Irish connections, not just in name but also to the professional Irish community in London, comes concerns that any changes to disposable income could in turn hit sponsorship and corporate hospitality. Thus any potential negative knock-on effects of a Brexit on the construction industry, which parts of the Irish community in London are closely linked to, could hit ticket receipts, he said.

“If that happens, their disposable income comes down, one of the first things that gets cut is their discretionary income and that ‘I’ll take my family to a game’,” said Casey.

Depending on how long trade negotiations would take following a Brexit, uncertainty could persist and in turn affect business. “We are linked to the Irish young professionals over here. So if it affects them it affects us,” he said. “From my point of view, (uncertainty) is the last thing you want, trying to grow a business and build a business and sell a vision.”