Punjab dispute set to rumble on

Bertus de Jong 17/05/18


The player-eligibility dispute between the KNCB and Punjab CC Rotterdam that has disrupted the 2018 season looks set to continue for the foreseeable future, with neither party willing to back down. Punjab’s persistence in selecting Belgian nationals Mamoon Latif and Ali Raza, whom the board has deemed to be overseas players under Article 12 of the Competitiereglement, has thus far seen them forfeit a victory against ACC Amsterdam and incur a further 6 point penalty, with the prospect of fines to follow.

Punjab maintain that Raza and Latif, as EU citizens, ought not to be counted toward their overseas quota of 2 players in the first XI, and have signaled their intent to continue to field the pair alongside their two other overseas players at least until the question is resolved. The KNCB have made clear that so long as they continue to do so, their matches will be awarded to the opposition regardless of on-field outcome (and ignored entirely for purposes of net run rate), and a two point penalty will be imposed per round. With another double weekend coming up and little prospect of compromise on either side, the wrangle has the potential to throw the Topklasse table into confusion.

Mamoon Latif
Mamoon Latif in Belgian colours © Sander Tholen

The dispute now playing out so visibly on the points table has been looming since late last year, when Punjab first questioned the current KNCB regulations regarding overseas players, Punjab club secretary Ahzar Khawaja told TKcricket. Punjab’s position is that Raza and Latif, as EU citizens, have equal right to participate in what is in their case amateur sport, and that Punjab CCR will not turn them away nor force them to play below their standard, as to do so would amount to discrimination on basis of nationality. “Imagine if a public swimming pool in Belgium were to turn me away saying ‘only Belgian nationals can swim on Saturdays'” argued Khawaja. Punjab’s position, he explained, is that EU nationals and indeed any player legally resident within the Netherlands should not be discriminated against, and that in the case of the former the KNCB’s rules are likely contrary to EU law.

The board’s own position is simple, Competitieleider Alex de la Mar explained. The rules governing the definition of overseas players and the number permitted to play for a Topklasse side were commonly agreed by the KNCB and the clubs, and Punjab were informed ahead of time that they could expect to face both competitive and financial sanction if they were to exceed their quota. “As for EU law, the board’s position is that these rules are only applicable when their is a question of employment. We’re not restricting anyone’s freedom of movement or freedom to work, just enforcing the rules that the clubs agreed to.”

The two-player limit for overseas players in the Topklasse applies to any non-Netherlands passport-holder with the exception of those players who have participated in a domestic league in the Netherlands in three of the preceding four years and played a minimum of 8 matches in the immediately preceding season. The purpose of the restriction, de la Mar maintains, is to provide an opportunity for Dutch-produced youth players to gain Topklasse experience without facing undue competition from foreign talent, with a view to eventually building a stronger local player-base

Khawaja and his club are unconvinced by this reasoning, pointing to the opportunities afforded to South African or Australian dual-passport holders immediately on arrival in the country in, for example, the Dutch A-team programme of the Pro-Series. Khawaja went on to poke fun at the idea that the pair were being flown in as ringers, “I’m not really sure how you’re supposed to fly anyone from Antwerp to Rotterdam, it’s a 45 minute train-ride.” Khawaja concedes that Punjab knew ahead of time that the KNCB would deem the players to be overseas, but claims that Punjab had attempted to raise the issue well in advance of the beginning of the season. After a promised meeting to discuss the question in March never materialised, Punjab attempted to have the issue included on the agenda of the most recent ALV. In the event, when they raised the issue from the floor Khawaja feels it was given insufficient attention. “It was the end of the meeting, the discussion didn’t last ten minutes.” he told TKC.

KNCB secretary Robert Vermeulen stated that whilst general discussions regarding the KNCB’s rules on overseas players had been ongoing since late last year, the consensus was that any change ahead of the 2018 season would be unduly disruptive to clubs’ preparations, and thus any eventual changes would apply only from 2019. “We’ll be looking at moving to a system more in line with the approach they take in Scotland and Ireland for 2019” Vermeulen explained, “but the clubs and players have been preparing for the season on the basis of the current rules, it would be impractical and unfair to other clubs to have changed them this season.” Vermeulen also denied that any March meeting had been scheduled.

With both sides seemingly digging in their heels, there is little prospect of a speedy resolution. Punjab have formally lodged their objection to the sanctions thus far imposed, and the dispute has duly been referred to the Tuchtcommissie, but though both sides are keen to see the matter resolved as soon as possible no date has yet been set for a hearing. Should the Tuchtcommisie rule in favour of the board, Punjab have the option under KNCB procedure to appeal to the Commissie van Beroep.

As both committees will be guided solely by the KNCB’s own rules, which are fairly unambiguous, it seems unlikely that either would find in Punjab’s favour. Punjab, however, despite stressing that they remain willing to sit down with the KNCB and seek a mutually acceptable resolution, have signalled their willingness to take the matter further if necessary, as it is their view that the rules themselves are incompatible with EU law. As the board are no more willing to back down, it seems almost inevitable at this point that the case will not be resolved internally.

Any ensuing court case will doubtless be fascinating to those who take a healthy interest in the interpretation EU law and its various sporting ramifications, and indeed any ruling may well have consequences well beyond Dutch domestic cricket. It will also, of course, be potentially costly for either Punjab or the KNCB (most likely both) and almost certainly drag on past the end of at least the current season, leaving the entire league table in legal limbo. For the sake of the competition it is to be hoped that it does not come to that.

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