The announcement of a new European “Champions League” competition for clubs from around the continent has precipitated immediate controversy in the Netherlands, with HBS Craeyenhout contesting VOC Rotterdam’s right to represent the Dutch in the tournament.
The new initiative will see clubs from the Netherlands, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Romania, Russia and Spain meet at the Desert Springs facility in Almería in southern Spain at the end of July next year to compete for the title of European Champions. The KNCB announced yesterday that they had nominated 2018 Topklasse champions VOC as the Dutch representatives, but HBS maintain that as winners of the T20 Cup last year by rights they should be the ones making the trip. “We will be contesting VOC’s nomination. It makes no sense to send the TK champion to a T20 tournament” incoming HBS cricket Chair Ewout Boendermaker told TKcricket.
As it turns out the first edition of the European Cricket League will in fact be contested in the newly-fashionable T10 format, organisers confirmed today, but the eight clubs participating have qualified through various formats. “Each federation has chosen their top competition champion – some 50 over, some 40 over, some T20.” a spokesman for the ECL clarified. It is hard to argue that the Topklasse is certainly the more prestigious title in the Netherlands, with the T20 competition even suffering from occasional no-shows, yet it’s difficult to deny that the choice of 50-over Champions for a 10-over competition is on the face of it rather surprising.
Dutch cricket, of course, loves nothing better than a spot of controversy and Dutch fans are quick to pounce on the merest hint of competitievervalsing, indeed the ECL would hardly be a proper competition if there wasn’t someone at the ALV decrying it as a stitch-up. Yet while rumours of a berth at a new European club championship for the Topklasse champions have been circulating since at least mid-July, it’s nonetheless concerning that some clubs appear to have been better-informed than others.
Not for the first time Dutch cricket finds itself plunged into a needless controversy that could have been headed off by better communication or consultation, though at least the organisers of the new competition can take comfort from the evident fact that a place at the European Championships is seen as a prize worth fighting over.
The European Cricket League will take place from July 30th to August 1st 2019 at Desert Springs Club, Almería. The following sides have qualified:
SG Findorff Cricket Bremen (Germany)
Svanholm CC (Denmark)
VOC Rotterdam (the Netherlands)
Brescia CC (Italy)
Cluj CC (Romania)
St Petersburg (Russia)
Dreux CC (France)
Catalunya CC (Spain)
The KNCB’s Commissie van Beroep (appeals committee) ruled in favour of Punjab Rotterdam CC this week in their long-running dispute with the KNCB over questions of player eligibility. The ruling would appear to critically undermine the board’s current rules governing the participation of overseas players in the Dutch domestic competition.
The dispute originially arose early last season, precipitated by Punjab’s selection of Belgian nationals Mamoon Latif and Ali Raza, who were deemed overseas players under Article 12 of the Competitiereglement, to represent the club’s first XI in the Topklasse.
The KNCB initially imposed a number of sanctions on the club, including awarding their match against ACC to the Amsterdam club by default, imposing a 6-point penalty as well as threatening fines. Punjab contended that as EU nationals Latif and Raza were entitled to equal treatment under EU law, and that they could not be counted toward the quota of 2 overseas players in the side, and continued to field the pair throughout the season.
The matter was first referred to the Tuchtcommissie, who in June nominally ruled in the KNCB’s favour, but scrapped the board’s competitive penalties and imposed a fine of a mere € 126 on Punjab -the lightest possible penalty – hinting that the rules themselves might not accord with Dutch or European law.
The KNCB duly appealed the decision, but last week the Commissie van Beroep sided decisively with Punjab. The CvB ruled that Article 12 of the Competitiereglemen amounted to discrimination on the basis of nationality and was consequently unlawful. Crucially, they based their ruling not on EU law but on the Dutch Algemene wet gelijke behandeling (general equal treatmenet act) thus seeming to preclude not only discrimination against EU passport-holders but any direct restriction on the basis of nationality whatsoever.
Kortom: je mag er zoveel laten invliegen als je als club zou willen
The current 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. Lifting that restriction for EU citizens might not have caused undue disruption given that the Dutch season naturally coincides with the domestic seasons of its European neighbours, and there are moreover comparatively few cricketers in the rest of continental Europe likely to have a significant impact at Topklasse level.
This week’s ruling, however, would seem to open the door to an unlimited number of players from further afield turning out in the Dutch competition, threatening to crowd out local talent, a prospect provoking dismay on social media.
Volgend jaar spelen er dus nog maar 5 Nederlandse in de @KNCBcricket topklasse👋
The KNCB do not appear to have been caught entirely unawares by the ruling however, and were already planning to amend the rules for the coming season; “we’ll be looking at moving to a system more in line with the approach they take in Scotland and Ireland for 2019” KNCB secretary Robert Vermeulen told TKcricket earlier this year. The board is understood to have consulted with clubs regarding potential changes to the overseas player rules even before the ruling was published last week, and is expected to present its proposals at the KNCB’s Algemene Ledenvergadering (general members meeting) scheduled for the 15th of this month.
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.
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.