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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Revan on June 2, 2008, 9:19 GMT

    The quota system is fast becoming something which could be called off since the number of colored players that can be chosen on merit is increasing...Lets leave it at that. There is no good reason that a player who plays in the English season should not be available to play for his country, South Africa. Why is this? It seems a bit "evil". In Rugby a similar thing happened with a number of leading players playing in Europe and so were not available for the South African domestic and Super 14 seasons, however the difference being that they can play for the Springboks (some have been selected). Unfortunately there is no financial competition offered currently in South Africa, but if the players playing elsewhere can play for South Africa the effective pool of players will be larger and up and coming players will get a chance domestically. This is reasonable however some administrators want to have their cake and eat it too...this simply can not work. Let the players play!!

  • Jack on June 1, 2008, 13:45 GMT

    This column by Borland is propagating utter nonsense! The biggest "rape" of SA cricketers is being perpetrated by CSA themselves! Firstly they have effectively banned 70% of white cricket talent with 50% quotas at school and 40% quotas in the franchises. Now quotas at national level have been introduced which reduce the proportion of white talent eligible for tests to 15.9%, regardless of merit. There can be no greater rape than this. Worse, CSA is trying to prevent players becoming Kolpaks for no valid reason! Almost all SA Kolpaks want to play in SA in our season. Restricting the numbers to 3 per franchise is effectively weakening local cricket, and is illegal. CSA is also trying to ban SA ICL players? However, labour law here prevents this. Pro cricketers must be allowed to earn their living like all working people. Their careers are only a short 16 years at best. CSA is behaving in an evil, reprehensible manner and MWP should be excoriated for lending support to this travesty.

  • Geoffrey on June 1, 2008, 11:45 GMT

    CSA's blatant racial discrimination is responsible for outstanding players like Rudolph loosing form (in Australia when his career should have gained momentum) and heart. Cash is a pull, but would not have been if selection was on merit. England & Wales Cricket Board can thank their lucky stars for Kolpak as their oversized leagues would be even less competitive & more boring without them. At least the English players can get competition against world class players & not just second raters filling the teams. There is more than enough room in County cricket for the few players likely to be of iinternational standard.

  • Stephan on June 1, 2008, 11:01 GMT

    Just wondering what the impact on the exodus would be if the controversial quota system is abolished...maybe money isn't the only contributing factor?

  • Kurleigh on May 31, 2008, 20:36 GMT

    This is also happening in the West Indies as well. Our players, who are still in contention to play for the West Indies, are turning their back on West Indies cricket, as our Cricket board cannot afford retainer contracts. So far, we've lost Pedro Collins to our present test series against Australia, as Pedro is rightfully seeking financial security.

    In an ideal world, a player should not be made to choose between representing his country and financial security.

  • Ashwin on May 31, 2008, 20:11 GMT

    kolpak is terrible its reducing the need for domestic english talent and its taking away talent south africa needs, imagine kevin pietersen playing for south africa, or even ryan ten doeschate (dutch batsman) playing for south africa, they're losing too many good players to england.

  • Bob on May 31, 2008, 16:28 GMT

    As an Aussie looking inwards, I cannot see a good reason why any South African would not want to be a Kolpak player. So you don't get to play International cricket? - Who cares if you can make many times more cash with substantially less pressure, and less likelyhood of getting dropped (read pay-cut) It's time that CSA looked outside the square - If kolpak players are so good, select them for South Africa - it's not as though the seasons clash. It works for Football (how many local players make the RSA national side? compared to those in Europe?), so why not cricket?

  • Homer on May 31, 2008, 13:10 GMT

    <i>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.</i><br> The author seems to confuse theft with trade. Trade is voluntary exchange for mutual benefit. The other is taking away wealth by coercion. In opposing the right of players to sell their resources to the highest bidder, it is the author who is "raping their resources".

  • Neil on May 31, 2008, 10:34 GMT

    I don't understand. The South African season is different to the English one. Is there some strange ruling that prevents South Africa's Kolpak players from returning and playing for their South African teams during the southern summer?

    Surely having a bunch of young players broaden their experience in a foreign land is beneficial and may even improve the pool of players available to be chosen by CSA?

    I ask again - is there some strange ruling that prevents South African Kolpaks from returning to South Africa during the Southern Summer and playing for their first class teams? And if so, is there a way around it?

  • shaun on May 30, 2008, 20:30 GMT

    NO NO !!! Mr Majola, they may well be all able to play for South Africa but will they be selected. You know as well as I do that the quota system takes out at least 6 players out of the touring side so those who are not going to make it are not just going to wait for you to grant them a favour. Be realistic Boje left because he is no longer a test canditate. Rudolph was fired because he is white no argument. Henderson was dropped for Robin Pedersen. Dippenaar was dropped for Amla or Prince, Boucher was once dropped for Tsolikeli and SA lost the test. Yes I know you have to follow government policy and you are doing a good job but there is a price to pay. Our cricket will go more towards Zimbabwe(no crisis there) than New Zealand. Still Amla's done well as also Prince so I'm happy. Just a pity about our provincial cricket is not so good. bring on the 20/20 double innings starting at 4pm and i will be the first in the groung to watch.

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