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What is Kolpak Rule?

What is Kolpak Rule?

There is a very little chance that you’ve heard about this Kolpak Rule, even if you are a die-hard sports fan. It is one of the lesser known and less discussed fact of cricket and rugby that has been controlling the game ever since 2003-04.


Maroš Kolpak, born in Czechoslovakia, a Slovak handball player, legally resident and working in Germany, was playing for the German second division handball side TSV Ostringen since 1997. The German Handball Association had a rule (Rule 15) which prohibited its member clubs from fielding more than two non-EU citizens. At that time, Slovakia was not a member of the European Union then (it joined the EU in May 2004), Slovakia did, however, have an Association Agreement with the European Union.

Kolpak was ejected from his club in 2000 as they had filled their quota of two non-EU players. He challenged the ejection on the ground that Rule 15 placed an illegal restriction on his freedom of movement as a worker by treating him differently from German citizens. The Association held that equality of treatment applied only to citizens of European Union countries and not to non-EU citizens. Maros Kolpak approached to the German court which referred it to the European Court of Justice to determine whether the Association Agreement between Slovakia and the European Union provided equal rights for Slovak workers who were living and working legally within the EU. The ECJ gave its landmark judgment on 8th May 2003, in favour of Maros Kolpak. And that is why the judgment is popularly known as Kolpak Rule.

It ruled that citizens of countries which have signed EU Association Agreement have the same right to freedom of work and movement within the EU as EU citizens. Thus, any restrictions placed on their right to work (such as quotas setting maximum numbers of such foreign players in sports teams) are deemed illegal under EU law. The decision put a wide impact with regard to English County Cricket and professional rugby.

The Kolpak Ruling declares that the status that only Citizens of EU countries are allowed to work in any other EU country does not remain the same. Citizens of countries that are part of European Union Association Agreements, which are free trade treaties between the EU and other countries, also get the same right after the judgment.


Earlier to the Kolpak verdict,  the Englan Cricket Board rules had limited each county to play one overseas (non-EU) professional. But the Kolpak rule allowed Players from countries with such deals with the EU to play cricket in any EU country without being considered an overseas player. This means they can sign contracts with English county sides without having to be fielded as overseas players.

To discourage this practice, ECB brought new rule in payment to counties. Every game a Kolpak player plays instead of an English qualified player, a county gets £1,100 less from the ECB. But, the system did not result in favour of ECB as the number of Kolpak players did not drop, the counties chose to continue to sign foreign players, rather than maximize their handout from the ECB. The numbers kept increasing and it went to its peak when in 2008 during a match between Northants and Leicestershire, 11 players took on the field who were from non-EU countries and exploited the Kolpak rule.[i]

Amendment to Cotonou Agreement:

The number reached to 60 Kolpak players in English cricket, which alarmed the dangers to ECB. It resulted in an amendment to the Cotonou Agreement. ( cricketing nations such as South Africa, Zimbabwe, as well as several Caribbean nations, forms the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group of States. This group signed the Cotonou Agreement with 15 member nations of the European Union in June 2000 to reduce poverty in ACP nations and to establish trade co-operation between ACP and EU nations). The amendment gave some respite to England Board, which was keen to reduce the number of overseas players. In the amendment, EU stated that the Cotonou Agreement should not be interpreted as an avenue for free movement of labour, but should be treated as an opportunity for free trade of goods and services. United Kingdom’s Home Office later enforced further restrictions on Kolpak players by stating that only those individuals who have held a valid work permit for four years have the right to be treated as EU citizens. The amendment also allowed entry limitations to be decided by visa regulations.

Qualifications of a Kolpak player:

To be a Kolpak player, he has to give up his right to play for his country.  A Kolpak player must not have represented his country in the past 12 months and during the period of his contract with a county, he will not be eligible to represent his country. The Kolpak players will be eligible to play for England after plying their trade in the country for four years.

Consequences of Brexit:

Britain’s decision to leave the European Union, known as Brexit, has its impact on sports as well. As a non-member of the EU, those agreements (Cotonou Agreement, etc.) Britain may prevent players from taking up county contracts. As a result of the uncertainty signing long-term contracts with counties to take advantage of the rules.  The real result of Brexit is still unknown and the future remains discouraging for such players.

Some Key Kolpak Cricketers:

South Africa: Ashwell Prince, Ryan McLaren,  Faf du Plessis, Neil McKenzie, Alviro Petersen, Andre Nel, Colin Ingram, Justin Kemp, Paul Harris, Kyle Abbott, Rilee Rossouw, David Wiese, Lance Klusener.

Zimbabwe: Andy Flower, Grant Flower, Kyle Jarvis, Brendan Taylor, Anthony Ireland

West Indies: Shivnaraine Chanderapaul, Dwayne Smith, Pedro Collins, Brendan Nash, Corey Collymore, Ottis Gibson, Ravi Ranpaul, Tino Best,

New Zealand: Andre Adams

Netherlands: Ryan ten Doeschate




Other sources :


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About Anupam Shukla

Learner II Law Student II Political Philosophy II Cricket fan II

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