Brexit could affect rugby and cricket imports to Britain
By Lia Hervey, Sky Sports News HQ
Last Updated: 24/06/16 7:28am
Uncapped rugby players from the EU like Italian props Riccardo Brugnara and Derrick Appiah could soon be ineligible to play in Britain, a leading sports lawyer has warned.
The United Kingdom's decision to leave the EU in Thursday's referendum means uncapped players from the Republic of Ireland may also be unable to play in the country.
Many rugby and cricket players arrive in the Aviva Premiership and county cricket through the 'Cotonou agreement', a treaty between the European Union and the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States.
This allows citizens of countries from those areas which have signed European Union Association Agreements (EUAA) - such as Samoa and Fiji - to have the same right to freedom of work and movement within the EU as EU citizens.
In cricket, the 'Kolpak Ruling', which is also used in both codes of rugby, gives citizens of countries which have signed EUAA the same rights. Prior to that ruling, which was introduced in 2003, England and Wales Cricket Board rules had limited each county to one overseas, non-EU professional.
In rugby, a club may not play more than two 'foreign players' in any match. EU law means Kolpak players cannot be classed as a foreign player.
And lawyer Paul Shapiro of Charles Russell Speechlys said the extent to which rugby is affected will be determined by what the government agrees as its terms for leaving the EU.
"The crucial point for rugby fans will be whether any agreement with the EU includes broad free movement obligations, such as that currently in place with EEA members (Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway)," he said.
"If it does, the current position regarding the movement of players between the continent and the UK will most likely continue. If, instead, an agreement is reached which includes restrictions on the movement of persons and services, the impact on rugby would be more significant.
"Firstly, English players may not be able to move to the continent freely and EU nationals could be subject to entry restrictions when seeking to play in England, if post- Brexit they are treated in the same way as current non-EU nationals.
"Secondly, if EU law ceases to apply in the UK, the RFU may be able to more effectively restrict the number of foreign players that feature in match day squads as they could potentially include EU nationals and Kolpak players within any foreign player quota."
If Kolpak and EU players are treated as any other foreign players they would need to be an elite rugby player who has started once at international 15-a-side level during the last 15 months for a tier one or two nation, or capped 10 times and started once in the last 15 months from other nations.
This means uncapped players from the EU such as Italian props Riccardo Brugnara and Derrick Appiah would potentially have been ineligible if they had moved to the Premiership after Brexit.
In addition, the impact on rugby in England will be more pronounced if immigration controls are introduced between the UK and the Republic of Ireland which could prevent uncapped Irish players or those who have been out the international game for over 15 months from playing in the Premiership.
The ECB estimates around 6% of players will be affected out of 400 to 420 professional cricketers. In rugby, there were 72 Kolpak players in the Aviva Premiership last season.
Speaking to Sky Sports News HQ, Sale Sharks rugby boss Steve Diamond says foreign players have made a huge contribution to top-flight rugby in Britain.
He said: "A national competition like the Aviva Premiership would not be good if it was 100 per cent British. We need foreign impetus.
"You need skill sets from different nations who have played around the world to generate enthusiasm and generate crowds. People want to see the top class players from around the world."
Others, however, have claimed that the restriction on foreign players could be a good thing and could nurture homegrown talent. Former England Test bowler Dominic Cork says his own son may have struggled to make it due to the influx of Kolpak players.
"Do Kolpak players clog up county cricket that does not then allow younger players to go through and have that experience?" said Cork. "I can only talk about my son at the moment who is at Derbyshire, and he is in a squad that does have Kolpak players.
"My son is a 21-year-old who has come through the academy system. He's desperate to play first-class cricket. Would it help him if there are no Kolpak players available to play county cricket?
"For a sport to succeed, then you need the best players and if that involves Kolpak players in any sport, not just cricket, then I'm a believer that you get them."