Test icicles form around those frozen out by Kolpak contracts
Duanne Olivier was the 42nd SA player to sign a Kolpak deal, thereby he is ineligible for international selection
Until Tuesday, this week’s expected announcement of Cricket SA’s (CSA) list of contracted players was a bit of bureaucratic bumf.
Who would pick up the internationally retired – though frenetically busy – AB de Villiers’s not inconsiderable salary? Would the suits smile on Zubayr Hamza and Rassie van der Dussen? Would Chris Morris be kept on the books considering, partly because of injury, he had featured in only four of the 33 games SA had played since the previous list was unveiled in March last year?
There were questions, but their answers promised to be clearcut.
Then, on Tuesday, Duanne Olivier became the 42nd SA player to sign a Kolpak contract – thus taking his name out of the hat for international selection – and everything changed.
Now CSA’s list will be scrutinised for suggestions of who might have been signed in a desperate bid to retain their services, and who has not been included because, probably, they were on their way to England before Brexit changes everything again. If (or when) Brexit does arrive, the Kolpak ruling – which allows EU citizens to ply their trade across its members’ 28 countries without being considered foreigners, and thus escape quotas for homegrown employees – will no longer apply in the UK.
South Africans benefit from the Kolpak arrangement because in June 2000 SA signed the Cotonou Agreement, which cleared the red tape from the path of citizens of 78 African, Caribbean and Pacific nations who want to work in the EU. So, if you want to blame anyone for SA cricket’s Kolpak crisis, blame Thabo Mbeki, who was the president in June 2000.
Almost 19 years on there remains little CSA, Zimbabwe Cricket or the West Indies Cricket Board can do to plug the leaking away of the talent they have nurtured.
CSA and the SA Cricketers’ Association are determined to create and maintain an environment that is attractive to the country’s players. But there is no effective defence to the twin threats of hard currency and First World living conditions. Even so, cricket-minded citizens of the affected countries, fuelled by a misplaced sense of patriotism, tend to take personally the news of another Kolpak signing from their ranks.
The fact that players are professionals who represent nothing and no one but themselves and the teams they play for, and wouldn’t dream of wearing their national team’s badge if they weren’t paid handsomely to do so, fails to cut through the emotion.
West Indies captain Jason Holder has made an interesting suggestion to try and change that reality.
“Probably the ICC [International Cricket Council] and Fica [the Federation of International Cricketers’ Associations] need to get together and institute a substantial minimum salary so that players will feel comfortable coming home to represent their country,” Holder said on Wednesday.
“What they also need to do is to make sure that there is a window for these domestic [T20] leagues, so that players play for their national team. [We] don’t want to continue losing players to these leagues and also things like Kolpak.”
Would that work? Probably not.
Brexit would do the trick, but probably only until Britain and countries such as SA make trade agreements.
Soon, not even a national contract could be enough to stop the northward flow of the cricket economy’s most prized assets.