Are Kolpak contracts taking English cricket a step back?
In recent weeks the scrutiny of a lacklustre England side on their travel’s has ramped up the pressure on the teams hierarchy, with calls for change being considered.
The first place to look would seemingly be the county game, but there appears to be a big stumbling block.
A severe lack of English talent coming through county ranks has cause for concern. Only Jack Leach, Liam Livingstone and a developing Mason Crane are in line to replace failures in the batting line-up and spin departments, with no real exciting fast-paced bowlers waiting in the wings to take the reigns of James Anderson when he eventually retires.
Why is this?
Well, a number of county sides have taken advantage of Kolpak contracts, allowing them to sign seasoned professionals of the world game, instead of looking towards their academies.
WNOL’s Lee Pearson investigates why this is happening and the affects it has on all parties involved.
What are Kolpak contracts and how did they come about?
In 2000 Slovakian professional handball player Maros Kolpak was ejected from second division side TSV Ostringen because they had more than two non-EU players in their squad. Kolpak had been residing in Germany and working legally due to the Association Agreement between Slovakia and the EU.
But under the Bosman ruling, the German Handball Association said he was not under Rule 15, and had no rights. The case was referred to the European Court of Justice who ruled in favour of Kolpak, as it restricted his rights for freedom of movement to work under the Association Agreement.
This ruling, in 2003, allowed sportsmen and women, whose country had this agreement in place, to work legally in EU countries without having to count towards the overseas quota. Sports such as cricket and rugby, who have caps on foreign players, are most affected by this rule.
How do non-EU players obtain such contracts?
Former South African cricketer Alan Wilkins explains to Cricbuzz why non-EU players are allowed to sign such contracts and the reason behind the increase.
Why do players go down this route?
Security. Players like David Weise (Sussex), the aforementioned Rilee Rossouw and Kyle Abbot (Hampshire) along with Hardus Viljoen (Derbyshire) all chose Kolpak’s instead of continuing their international careers because of the quota system in South Africa limits their selection.
“I don’t want to regret sitting here in 12 months time where everyone is fit again and i’m wearing a bib and I’m 30,”
Having a long-term contract, receiving a consistent salary, keeps them stable for life away from cricket. Kyle Abbot in his press conference last year said; “If you want to buy me groceries in ten years time you’re more than welcome to . I have bills to pay and groceries.”
“Ever since I started playing professional cricket at 19, there has been a quota system. I have grown-up with it. I’ve never used it as an excuse and will not now.”
But the quota system does have some part to play. The rules state that six players have to be of non-white dissent, two of which have to be black, limiting opportunity to use his talents for the Proteas.
“I don’t want to regret sitting here in 12 months time where everyone is fit again and i’m wearing a bib and I’m 30,” Abbot continued, “I want to show loyalty now, to Hampshire, to hopefully have future beyond playing cricket.”
No one can blame them for turning their backs on their country for future security, but this leaves others with less secure futures in the game.
The impact on the county game?
The counties that utilise the Kolpak rule seem to haven forgotten the players in their academies.
“I was given one game to show what I could do. Can you call that a chance?”
“I was falling out of love with the game. The demands, lack of stability and stress all took its toll” Jake Goodwin, 20, former Hampshire academy player told WNOL.
“I was given false hope that I would be getting games in the first team, whilst they knew Kolpak’s were going to be placed in front of me. I was given one game to show what I could do. Can you call that a chance?”
Jake scored 32 off 29 balls opening the batting in his one and only chance to impress against Somerset in the 2016 Natwest Blast, “I could have scored more, should have. But trying to the up the anti, I got stumped. We won the game, I didn’t feel out of place, I was expecting more game time in 2017.”
But that never came, instead Rilee Rossouw walked through the door demoting Jake further down the pecking order, “I knew that dented my chances, Tom (Allsop) had scored heavily and Rilee is world class, I was resigned to playing second team cricket. I felt a bit down and my scores suffered.”
“I guess it was a question of timing, if it was one year earlier I think I would have had a proper chance. I know I’m not the only one, we can’t sit and wait 3-4 years to not have a career, I thought it was best to leave.”
Even Jake’s former coach at Swindon Cricket Club, Chris Mabberley, thinks Kolpak contracts have gone too far, “The state of the game overall – including Kolpak’s- played a big part in my decision (to stop coaching).”
“You can see what I think on twitter, Kolpaks suffocate the game in this country, you don’t see Australia or South Africa allowing our has beens to play in their leagues.”
And it remains a wonder how many more talents are being shunned by counties? Is the increase of Kolpak cricketers actually improving county cricket for the long run? Will Brexit intervene or will it remain a problem long-term, shutting down the conveyor belt for young, talented English players that could potentially be mainstays for the national side?