Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Kolpak players

The rise of the overseas player in county cricket has been an established fact for a long time now. Simon Hughes remembered going through the list and trembling at the prospect of facing Sylvester Clarke (West Indies & Surrey), Imran Khan (Pakistan & Sussex), Malcolm Marshall (West Indies & Hampshire), Richard Hadlee (New Zealand & Nottinghamshire), Joel garner (West Indies & Somerset) and so on and on.
The argument has always been that the overseas players denied home-grown players an opportunity, and gave them an unnecessary advantage in training them in Englih conditions. This is something of a circular argument of course, looking at the list above it is dominated by West Indians (and I didn't mention Courtney Walsh, Curtly Ambrose, Wayne Daniel or Ian Bishop, all of played county cricket at one point). Is the fact that only one of the current West Indies side played county cricket (Corey Colleymore, briefly) resonsible for their poor ranking? Or is their poor ranking responsible for the fact that none of them play county cricket?
In any event, this squabble has been made to look rather old fashioned by two cases before the ECJ, the Bosman ruling and now the Kolpak ruling. The first, inter alia, made it impossible for national sporting bodies to set national quotas that excluded EU nationals - more significant for football than cricket as the likes of Nic Pothas and his Greek passport are unusual. Kolpak took it one stage further, so that a national of a country which has an Association Agreement with the European Union (countries such as South Africa, Zimbabwe, some West Indian Islands etc) and that person is in possession of a valid UK work permit, must be treated for the purposes of employment as if he was a citizen of an EU country.
This means that the likes of Jaques Rudolph, a former (and possibly future) South African Test player is playing as a non-overseas player for Yorkshire - an inherently ludicrous position. The average county team now plays with four non-British qualified players - which looks over-the-top. So is there anything we can do? David Fulton recommends official ECB action limiting the use of Kolpak players, but this is the one thing that can't happen - it would be illegal under European law and any player (or team) denied a place could sue the ECB for restraint of trade - and win. So the only possibility is an informal gentleman's agreement between the counties not to use them. Sound likely to you? Me neither.

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