If you’re like me, trying to understand it might do your head in.
The simple explanation, apparently, is that the United Kingdom intends leaving the European Union next month. It’s like a divorce, only messier. The average political discussion in the UK now resembles a loose maul, although rugby is less aggressive, and with fewer insults.
The metaphor is intentional, because a tornado could be looming for South Africans plying their trade in the UK leagues. According to the latest SA Rugby annual, there are 92 South Africans playing in the top echelons of England, Scotland and Wales. (And for Ulster, but that is another story!). These range from Premiership stars like Faf de Klerk and Rohan Janse van Rensburg to lesser lights who turn out for smaller clubs like Cinderford and Yorkshire Carnegie. Big clubs like Gloucester and Saracens are especially top-heavy with South Africans.
But the status for those South Africans who don’t qualify for a UK Passport – the bulk of those 92 – could be in jeopardy, potentially stifling the player drain that hurts SA rugby. Under the terms of what is known as the Kolpak ruling, sportsmen from Africa, the Caribbean and Pacific states enjoy the same rights as EU players, thanks to these nations enjoying trade agreements with the EU. But leaving the UK will torpedo the Kolpak agreement meaning that future imports will count as foreigners. The problem is that the Premiership currently only allows two “foreign” players in any match day squad. This means that post-March 29, many of those amazing Fijians, Tongans, Namibians and South Africans could be on the outer. While formally leaving the EU will take months, and almost certainly have little impact on the current season, recruitment could be massively affected for the season after. There are also concerns that Pounds Sterling could take a knock, affecting players’ pockets.
One such consequence could be that SA, a net exporter of talent thanks in the main to an outstanding schools system, could see our players shifting their ambitions to France and Japan. But not even these cash-rich nations could completely absorb the overflow, who’d include players from other countries too. Another consequence is that more players could opt to stick around, especially those middle-of-the-roaders who play for little more than a bed, a beer and a pie. There is a view in Britain that homegrown players would benefit from an exit of international players, but the reverse is also true: players like De Klerk, Schalk Brits, Cobus Reinach and others have massively helped raise UK rugby standards.
Brexit could also have a huge bearing on UK cricket, not to speak of Premiership soccer where 70-plus players campaign as Kolpak players, freeing them from the bureaucracy that stymies regular visitors to the UK. This could present a massive challenge to the UK government, well aware of the Premiership as one of the crown jewels of British life and a crucial calling card to every country on earth. For now, rugby (and others) wait anxiously to see what Brexit might bring. They might take heart from European Council president Donald Tusk, who last week said there is a “special place in hell” for those who promoted Brexit without a plan to execute it.
We shall see.@clintonV