The Kolpak issue May 30, 2008

The rape of South Africa's resources

Ken Borland
Cricket South Africa and all concerned with the future of the game in the Republic now need to really have their wits about them as the trickle has become a full-scale flood, with close to 50 players having gone down the Kolpak route


Jacques Rudolph: a Yorkshire stalwart © Getty Images
 

Thanks to the ever-weakening Rand, English counties have been able to plunder a steady fountain of talent from South Africa, via the aquaduct provided by Maros Kolpak, the Slovakian handball player and a most unlikely agent for dramatic cricketing change.

When the left-arm spinner Claude Henderson, rather perplexingly ignored by the national selectors, signed for Leicestershire in 2004 as the pioneering Kolpak player, the general reaction of South Africa's cricketing stakeholders was: "Gee, he's been hard done by, he deserves to earn himself a nice retirement package."

But Cricket South Africa and all concerned with the future of the game in the Republic now need to really have their wits about them as the trickle has become a full-scale flood, with close to 50 players having gone down the same route.

The capitalists will take the pragmatic view and say it's all about free markets and trade and there's nothing wrong with it. Except that, as ever over the last 500 years, Africa are the poor cousins and their resources are the ones being plundered. CSA's chief executive, Gerald Majola, is no longer in the mood for platitudes.

"It's a financial issue and it will continue for as long as the rand is weak," Majola told Cricinfo on Friday. "What is most concerning for us is that when players sign Kolpak contracts, they denounce playing for South Africa. But we invest a lot of money in young players and then they are lost to the system.

Majola's chief concern is that South Africa could land in a similar situation to their neighbours, Zimbabwe, where the national team is chosen from a hopelessly small pool of players. "We can't compete financially, our top players are cheaper for the counties than their own mediocre players," said Majola. "Sport is different, it should not be about trade agreements.

"We would be quite relaxed about it all if they could still play for South Africa. We have no issues about our cricketers playing in England, in some instances we have actually encouraged them, because you gain a lot of experience over there. If they could play for South Africa still, there would be no problem, no limits on our side."

While Cricket South Africa's transformation policies may be a bone of contention for some, it seems the relatively astronomical amounts on offer in England are what really gets players (of all colours) leaping across the ocean. A top national contract is only worth about £5000 a month so it's a bit like asking a cricketer if he prefers to row himself to the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow (with South Africa) or take a sexy speedboat.

There is no doubt these days that if a player is out on the park for South Africa, he is definitely doing it out of national pride. But it is also true that only a few South Africans are playing in England because they long to wear three lions on their shirt.

It is mostly about securing a beautiful financial future, even if cricket in South Africa withers under the blazing sun of the free market of the global village. The England & Wales Cricket Board can bank on Cricket South Africa's wholehearted support in ensuring cricketers are not traded like oranges or anchovies.

CSA have already imposed a limit of three Kolpak players per franchise in an effort to maintain the integrity of domestic cricket. They need to ensure that there are enough players of quality in local competition while at the same time trying to limit the exodus that is eating away at the structure of the game.

Only in the Garden of Eden would one expect money not to influence the game we love, but now that the veil of innocence has been lifted, the rape of South Africa's playing resources is imminent.

Ken Borland is a journalist for MWP media in South Africa

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