by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (February 1st 2013)
England recently surrendered top place in the ICC rankings to South Africa. Among the players now representing cricket’s top team is Rory Kleinveldt. The 29-year-old is no stranger to controversy. Last year he was withdrawn from the T20 team after testing positive for marijuana. He conceded that he had behaved ‘irresponsibly.’ Kleinveldt made his Test début last November. He is playing in the First Test against South Africa at the Wanderers now.
However, we reported on another controversial situation almost five years ago. Kleinveldt played in England for Hampshire, being eligible as a ʻKolpakerʼ – named after a handball player who won the right to be treated as a home-based player despite not being German by not being eligible to represent his country. ʻKolpakersʼ were able to renounce that decision and be available to represent their country afterwards, but they couldn’t flip flop between being a ʻKolpakerʼ and representing their country.
ʻExploiting the Situationʼ
It was seen as a means of flouting the rules limiting the number of foreigners a county could play. Leicestershire made full use of them and it was argued that it was a means for older players who were no longer in contention to represent their countries to supplement their income by using a regulation the England and Wales Cricket Board had tried hard to close. Others were seen as mediocre players who would not benefit the youth strategies of English cricket.
The ECB challenged the use of ʻKolpakers,ʼ but the original Kolpak ruling was not responsible. It corrected an absurd situation that was preventing a Slovakian hand-ball player from plying his trade in Germany, when Slovakia was on the verge of joining the European Union which would have given Kolpak the right to play professionally in Germany.
The cricket issue was lumped in with Kolpak’s situation when it simply did not apply. The ʻKolpakersʼ were really utilising the Treaty of Cotonou which was a trade agreement which applied to the signatories that included African and Caribbean countries. The ʻKolpak cricketersʼ utilised it to claim that they could sell their labour in the European Union too. Some English counties leapt at the opportunity to sign these players – many of whom were South African.
The England and Wales Cricket Board wanted clarification from the European Union Commission, believing that ʻKolpak cricketersʼ were blocking the emergence of England eligible players, which they wanted the counties to concentrate on. While some saw that as part of their role – Middlesex’s Director of Cricket, Angus Fraser for example – others didn’t.
“First of all the ambition for the club is obviously to be a club that is consistently pushing for domestic honours and be a club that is consistently providing England with cricketers, so they are the dual role for the county – obviously try to win domestic competitions, but also to produce England cricketers,” Fraser told us exclusively four years ago. “f you’ve got a good overseas player that really takes some time to work with the younger players, then he can be invaluable. At Middlesex we were very fortunate when I was young we had Wayne Daniel and Desmond Haynes, who were extremely good.”
The End of the ʻKolpak’ Cricketer Era is Nigh
Quality is the real issue. “You do get some overseas players now and they’re flitting in and flitting out and have no chance to form any kind of relationship with those players,” Fraser said. “It is harder now. It is important that the overseas players do take a role in the development of younger players.”
Former Middlesex and England batsman “I don’t think there should be a number on them,” former England cricketer Owais Shah said at the time. “I think if you’re an England player – if a guy who’s qualified for England is good enough, heʼ’ll come through. If you’re trying to say there’s too many Kolpakers, I don’t really have a problem with it.”
Nevertheless, the ECB did. They sought clarification from the European Union Commission. It ruled that the Treaty of Cotonou (2000) was not a freedom of labour agreement, but a freedom of trade one. In other words, Cotonou did not give the ‘Kolpak cricketers’ a licence to play as home-based players. The era of ‘Kolpak cricketers’ was coming to an end.