Commentary Box: Kolpak is a double edged sword

In South Africa the word “Kolpak” has thrown around like a boomerang in cricket circles, constantly coming back to haunt and deprive a nation of its international stars.

This week South African cricketers, Kyle Abbott and Rilee Rossouw signed lucrative four and three year Kolpak-contracts with Hampshire respectively in order to play as non-overseas players. This means that they won’t play for South Africa for the duration of their contracts and this will increase their chances of playing time in England. This is mainly due to the restrictions of overseas players in English County sides as only one overseas players can be present per match.

It is though quite ironic that the one ruling that is influencing South African cricket at the moment had nothing to do with cricket or South Africa in any shape or form.

The Kolpak ruling originated when Slovakian handball player, Maros Kolpak, appealed to the European Court of Justice to be included as a non-EU player in the German Handball League.

This is because Kolpak was already a German resident who was part of a country that had an association agreement with the EU. The court ruled in his favour and thus he was able to gain more playing time.

Maros Kolpak: Who knew a Slovakian handball player would have such a big effect on SA cricket.

Maros Kolpak: Who knew a Slovakian handball player would have such a big effect on SA cricket.

South Africa is also part of the Cotonou Agreement with the EU and players can sign a Kolpak contract if they have a valid four year work permit in the UK or if they have a certain number of international caps.

A Kolpak player can come back to play for his national team, but only after his Kolpak deal has expired.

The main issues with Kolpak is that English cricket gets negatively affected as their players get less of an opportunity with the large influx of star players who sign contracts. The other negative thing is that South Africa are deprived of talented cricketers who choose financial security instead of international duty at the highest level.

One cannot blame them for choosing this option as cricket is a professional sport and part of their daily bread. Who would not take the higher paying job especially in their thirties? This is Abbott’s rationale, but one could also see the difficult decision it was to abandon one’s country.

When Brexit kicks in then Kolpak contracts will also not be possible in the UK, hence the urge for South African talent such as Stiaan van Zyl and Simon Harmer to leave the country this past month.

The trick question is how can Cricket SA keep their young talent interested in the Proteas rather than taking a lucrative overseas deal?

I fear a lot more players will take the overseas route instead of staying in SA – mainly because of politics, the economy and limited playing time in South Africa.

Do players benefit from Kolpak? On an individual level certainly, but internationally the game of cricket will continue to suffer if clubs take precedent over countries.

Wouter Pienaar
Sport Journalist

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