Brexit could be good or bad for SA rugby

The Brexit deadline date is 29 March 2019. That’s the date on which the UK is meant to leave the EU.

If it goes ahead, it could have significant implications for South Africans (without British passports) playing in the English Premiership.

The Premiership currently has a two foreign player quota policy.

Interestingly SA players do not form part of this quota at present.

SA players along with those from Fiji, Samoa, Tonga and a few other nations but not Australia or New Zealand currently enjoy the benefit of being classified as Kolpak players in the UK. This means that established by EU agreement, Saffas have all the same rights and ability to work in England as EU workers and are not allowed to be subjected to quotas as they are not classified as foreign players/workers. So like Saracens did in the past, a Premiership club can literally load its squad with Saffas.

However after Brexit, EU agreements will no longer be enforceable in the UK. In all likelihood, Saffas and the Pacific Islanders will be reclassified as foreign players and will have to compete with Aussies and New Zealanders for the two places (in the event that this number is not increased). It could be worse. Without redefinition, all non-English Qualified Players (EPQ) like those from Scotland and Wales, might become “foreign players” as well. The whole thing would probably translate to fewer opportunities for Saffas in these lucrative leagues.

It might seem like a good thing if more quality players had no other choice but to ply their trade in SA because of Brexit. Remember that although France (and Italy) would still adhere to EU agreements, French rugby has its own form of quota to ensure the clubs field sufficient numbers of French qualifying players (JIFF), which limits the numbers of foreigners they can practically take in.

Retaining more good players for longer periods would no doubt contribute to a stronger local rugby system in SA.

However what if a worst case scenario materialises in SA and pro rugby collapses under the financial pressure, bringing about an unsuitable competitive level to meet the expectations of the rugby loving public. Under those circumstances, rugby in SA may go on but as a pro sport it simply would not be able to recover. It therefore won’t have the backing or infrastructure to continue to produce world class players. SA would become almost entirely reliant on the home nations, mainland Europe and perhaps even Japan to fulfil that role.

The system might get to a stage where fortunate high school graduates would be scouted to move to club rugby youth academies abroad immediately after matriculating. Here they’d be developed and those who made the grade would stand in line to transition to senior club rugby. The unavoidable risk would be that many would qualify to play for those Northern Hemisphere nations where they reside and even those who were not up to international standard might turn their backs on SA for good, in the hopes of one day representing their new home countries. It would weaken Springbok rugby for sure but at least there would be a chance of still fielding a test side of players who were of a reasonable if not high standard.

Anyway the bottom line is that under that scenario, having those extra opportunities available to young school leavers at the English Premiership clubs and the handful in Wales and Scotland, would be meaningful. Brexit slamming that door shut might not be that great!

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