The England & Wales Cricket Board (ECB) this week announced that from the 31 December 2020, with the United Kingdom exiting the European Union, the Kolpak qualification will cease to exist.
This is a blow for South African cricketers, especially as 45 of a total of 67 Kolpak cricketers over the years have come from South Africa. When the Kolpak ruling was made in 2003, the former Proteas and Western Province spin bowler, Claude Henderson, became the first Kolpak signing in 2004 by Leicestershire. Other countries’ cricketers who were eligible to qualify as Kolpak cricketers under the European Union Association Agreements were the West Indies and Zimbabwe.
The reason that most of the Kolpak cricketers were from South Africa is because in the past South African cricket was strong and respected. South Africa, through its strong cricket schools system, has always produced more quality cricketers than there are opportunities for and continues to do so today still. Most of the South African Kolpak cricketers consisted of peripheral, disposed of and retired Proteas cricketers. As the years progressed and quotas deepened in South African Cricket, more and more players who qualified sought career security in county cricket. This decision will come as a blow to cricketers in this country as they no longer have options to avoid a very narrow professional system and one that is not driven on merit. Unlike their football and rugby counterparts, they do not have the same professional opportunities around the world. Domestic cricket is driven by very different dynamics compared to these two codes.
The ECB have never appreciated the contribution that Kolpak cricketers have made to County cricket. The Kolpak cricketers lifted the standard of their domestic cricket, which enabled them to produce a viable commercial product on the field and a strong standard to produce future international cricketers.
The ECB has 18 counties. Without foreign cricketers, including the Kolpak players, they certainly do not have enough quality cricketers to maintain a modern-day standard. Any self-respecting organisation would have legislated that the current Kolpak cricketers should have been allowed to finish their careers in the County system to which they aligned themselves to by signing the statutory declaration. However, no new signings would be made post-Brexit.
They have now implemented a new system that will allow each county two overseas cricketers. The problem that faces the South African cricketers is that the 36 overseas opportunities are open to all the countries around the world, whereas Kolpak was limited to three cricket nations.
Regarding European passports, they are no longer applicable for qualification unless a cricketer is termed “settling in”. This means spending 330 days a year in the UK qualifying for a British passport.
The ancestral visa continues to give a cricketer working rights in the UK, but not cricket working rights. So, a cricketer can work permanently on the ground staff at Lords but cannot play for Middlesex. This is crazy and will not stand up in a court of law if legally challenged.
The new ECB laws post-Brexit is bad news for those South African cricketers who saw County cricket as an alternative to a career in this country with its many challenges for cricketers.