Overseas rugby and cricket players in Brexit limbo
“Kolpak” rugby and cricket players risk being barred from UK sport after the EU has failed to renew an international treaty and amid Brexit uncertainty.
Kolpak players are from overseas but do not count as international players. A transitional Brexit period between the UK and EU has been proposed to end in January 2021.
The current Brexit deadline has been delayed until January 31, although the current far-right UK government plans to force through the divisive withdrawal agreement before that date.
All Brexit preparations have fallen into the realm of guesswork.
The UK government has suspended its £100-million advertising campaign, “Get Ready for Brexit”, on October 31.
Acting prime minister Boris Johnson has written to Brussels saying he formally accepted a Brexit extension until January 31, abandoning his “die in a ditch” pledge to leave the EU on Thursday.
Opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said: “How many nurses could have been hired, how many parcels could have been funded at food banks, how many social care packages could have been funded for our elderly?”
Sporting uncertainty is one tiny aspect of the Brexit crisis.
Existing Kolpak players – if Brexit happens –would only be eligible next year if they remained with their current clubs, said Rose Carey, an immigration lawyer with Charles Russell Speechlys.
South Africa’s Faf de Klerk, one of Saturday’s World Cup finalists, is a Kolpak rugby player in the Premiership.
And the future of Kolpak players across the EU is in doubt. The Cotonou Agreement, which allows citizens from 78 African, Caribbean and Pacific countries to work in the bloc if they have a work permit, expires in February. It has not been renewed.
If the Cotonou Agreement is not renewed, Kolpak contracts would cease to be valid after 2020.
Last season, 25 county cricketers played as Kolpaks in England and Wales and the UK’s rugby union Premiership had 119 registered as Kolpak last season.
The Rugby Football Union is left in limbo.
“The decision on who can work in the UK is a matter for government. Player registration rules sit with the RFU and we have confirmed that there will be no changes this season even if there is a ‘no-deal’ Brexit,” the RFU said.
Rugby and cricket teams could increase the number of foreign players permitted per club to allow Kolpaks to stay on. Rugby clubs currently allow two foreign players and cricket sides have just one in the One-Day Cup and two in the shorter Twenty20 Blast.
The Kolpak ruling was named after Slovakian handball player Maros Kolpak before Slovakia joined the EU. He won the freedom to move to a German club in 2003 at the European Court of Justice.
Anti-Brexit protesters in London this month. Picture credit: Eurasia Times