IOL Cricket writer Stuart Hess.
Why do South Africans still get in a froth when a player signs a Kolpak contract? People still think the Proteas badge means something. How naive. It’s 2019.

Some years back, a very prominent former national player told me the following: “This,” he said, pointing at the badge on his tracksuit jacket, “is going to become less enticing as a means to hold onto players. International cricket will no longer be the be all and end all of the sport.”

He was speaking with regards to the proliferation of T20 Leagues around the world. At the time there was a very real concern about the Indian Premier League becoming a six month competition, a bit like Major League Baseball in the USA, which runs from April to October each year.

There were very real moves taking place in India with owners of the franchises there claiming they wanted bigger returns on their investments.

What’s that got to do with Kolpak? Simple, money. Once sport went professional, everything about it was about money. Manchester United desperately need to get into the Champions League, the most lucrative club competition in the world, and Jose Mourinho wasn’t going to get them there or win it this year, so they tossed him out, because... money.

And that’s what the Kolpak contracts are all about. The badge long ago lost its lustre.

The rand’s a sh*t currency. Apartheid screwed it, Jacob Zuma and his cronies bathed themselves in corruption for a decade and screwed it further. Finance minister Tito Mboweni in his budget speech recently outlined how much more the rand will be screwed as this current government bails out State Owned Enterprises  Eskom, the SABC and SAA  just to keep them afloat lest even more people lose jobs and thus even fewer people vote for the ANC on May 8.

And so the pound becomes a very attractive option if you’re a South African with a particular set of skills that are being sought by entities in Britain, whether in banking, the arts or cricket.

When news broke of Duanne Olivier signing his three year contract with Yorkshire on Tuesday £1 could get you R18.29, by Thursday afternoon that same pound could get you R18.59. On Friday morning you could get R18.71 for a pound.

Olivier’s salary, it’s been reported in the British media, is understood to be over £100000, possibly up to £150000 per year  you do the math.

You can be pissed off, as Cricket South Africa were with Kyle Abbott and Rilee Rossouw two years ago and then again with Olivier this week, but Cricket SA pay in rands, Hampshire and Yorkshire pay in pounds.

Still Cricket SA being angry is understandable. They have invested in Olivier’s career just as they did with Rossouw and Abbott’s and all the other 40 or so players from this country who’ve taken up Kolpak contracts. The organisation’s CEO, Thabang Moroe, in that withering statement following Yorkshire’s announcement, called on the International Cricket Council to take heed.

“If one looks at the bigger picture this is not good news for the global game; either that a player who has just broken into the top 20 on the ICC Test match bowling rankings for the first time should opt effectively to bring down the curtain on his international career in favour of playing only in domestic leagues,” said Moroe.

West Indies captain Jason Holder agreed. “People still want to see international cricket being at the forefront. I just think, going forward, we need to find a way to keep players playing for their country so we can have an attractive product,” Holder said this week.

“Probably the ICC and FICA (the Federation of International Cricketers Associations or the international players union), needs to get together and institute a substantial minimum salary so that players will feel comfortable coming home to represent their country.”

And they’re right. But one look at the ICC’s agenda for this week’s chief executives’ meeting that Moroe attended in Dubai will tell them just how much cricket’s global mother body is worried about Kolpak contracts.

The ICC wanted to discuss a tax exemption for itself when it hosts events in India (such as the 2023 World Cup), and a broadcast deal for the World Test Championships, were just two of the items on that agenda; both about how much money the ICC can make and keep.

Perhaps there will be talk about a basic international player salary at some point, but not now.

So Olivier is off to earn his pounds at Yorkshire, and there are rumours in local cricket circles that more could follow, with the whole “Brexit” deadline being used to stir up anxiety. Strangely, no one is sure how Brexit will affect trade deals and Kolpak contracts, but creating fear and claiming financial security can be secured now seems enough for some players.

It puts more pressure on Cricket SA to ensure that its development processes keep churning out players.

At the moment it seems to be doing a good job of that, but it needs money to keep those development wheels turning and there’s not a lot of that going around at the moment.

Two of the three domestic competitions don’t have sponsors, the third, Momentum, is not renewing its contract at the end of the current season.

The Mzansi Super League, despite much fanfare and claims that a sponsor would be signed, came and went without one, and Cricket SA made no money out of its broadcast arrangement with the cash-strapped SABC.

The negotiations between CSA and SuperSport regarding the next broadcast deal will be crucial, for the money from that deal will help sustain cricket in the country and alleviate some of the financial pressure CSA is currently facing.

What it won’t do is prevent players taking up lucrative offers in England.

The badge isn’t as attractive as it once was, and money talks.

As one English scribe put it this week, quoting the famous US hip-hop artist Ice-T: “Don’t hate the player, hate the game.”


Independent on Saturday 

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