Kolpak: The biggest threat to South African cricket

News on Tuesday that Duanne Olivier, the promising South African fast bowler, had shunned international cricket for the foreseeable future by signing a contract with Yorkshire has turned the spotlight on most serious threat to South African cricket – the Kolpak deal.

In ten Test matches, Olivier claimed 48 wickets and was last month named Player of the Series in the 3-0 sweep of Pakistan.

This makes the 26-year-old the latest South African cricketer to quit the national team and head to England on a county deal, which increasingly has proven more lucrative than Cricket South Africa (CSA) contracts. (READ: Duanne Olivier quits South Africa to join Yorkshire)

In 2018, Morne Morkel and Heino Kuhn accepted Kolpak deals with Surrey and with Kent respectively.

As per the Kolpak ruling, cricketers are prohibited from playing for their country at the same time that they are contracted to an English county. And against the backdrop of South Africa’s ailing currency, cricketers across the country rushed to secure county contracts before Britain’s exit from the European Union closed the Kolpak loophole. (READ: Hardus Viljoen ends Kolpak deal with Derbyshire)

Kyle Abbott and Rilee Roussow quit South Africa to join Hampshire in 2017. © Getty

In January 2017, South Africa lost the services of fast bowler Kyle Abbott and batsman Rilee Rossouw after they confirmed they signed contracts with Hampshire. Less than an hour after the South African Test team’s victory over Sri Lanka at Newlands, Abbott, at the age of 29, announced he signed a four-year deal with Hampshire, and later that day Rossouw confirmed a three-year contract.

Immediately, both had their contracts terminated by CSA. Abbott was dropped from the squad for the final Test with Sri Lanka, and when speaking to the media, South Africa’s then coach Russell Domingo said he was “bitterly disappointed” with Rossouw. The 27-year-old batsman had been backed by the team despite scoring four ducks in his first six ODI innings, and that left Domingo bordering on furious.

Abbott was forthright about his decision to leave South Africa for England, saying it was based his long-term financial security. “It’s four years of security and playing cricket is an incredibly insecure environment for anyone. Knowing that I’ve got income for the next four years, which will take me to nearly 34, is quite reassuring,” he stated. 

A few days later on January 10, the allrounder David Wiese followed the lead of his countrymen Abbott and Rossouw and confirmed a three-year deal with Sussex

These three examples came after Stiaan van Zyl, Simon Harmer and Hardus Viljoen put their international careers on hold by signing Kolpak deals in late 2016.

What is a Kolpak deal?

1. The Kolpak ruling came into force in 2003 when the European Court of Justice ruled that anyone with a work permit from a country which has an associate trading agreement with the EU had the same rights as a European worker.

2. The ruling originally related to Slovakian handball player Maros Kolpak who was released from his German club because of a quota on non-EU players. He claimed it was unfair and the court ruled in his favour.

3. A player becomes eligible for a Kolpak deal when he gives up the right to play for his country, and is not classed as an overseas-player signing.

4. Kolpak players need only a working holiday visa to play.