Kolpak ruling made a big impact on European sports: Maros | More sports News

BENGALURU: On May 8, 2003, a five-member panel of European Court of Justice in Luxembourg made a landmark judgment which allowed sportspersons from countries with associate trade agreements with the European Union the same right to freedom of movement and work as EU citizens.

Hundreds of players across the world welcomed the verdict as the ruling impacted an estimated 176 countries across the globe. All credit to the judgment goes to a handball goalkeeper from Slovakia – Maros Kolpak – who pursued the case for over three years and whose name is eponymous to the ruling.

Thanks to the verdict, many South African, Zimbabwean and Caribbean players opted for lucrative county careers in England.

At a time when it was thought that Brexit would nullify the Kolpak deals by the end of 2020, the Covid-19 crisis could extend this process further, according to experts. On the 17th anniversary of the ruling, Maros speaks to TOI.
Excerpts:

What are the circumstances that led to the ‘Kolpak Ruling’? Did you ever think that this ruling could make an impact on other sports like cricket and rugby, when you moved court?

It happened when I was with German handball club TSV Baden Ostringen (now Rhein-Neckar Lowen) playing in the handball-Bundesliga. There were three foreigners including me in the club and we all had valid contracts and other necessary documents. However, we couldn’t play together all the time because the German Handball Federation (Deutscher Handballbund) prohibited clubs from fielding more than two non-EU players. The club questioned this at the sports court which rejected the plea. The only way then was to approach the civil court and I filed the case. I knew that if the decision was in my favour it would make a big impact on sports. However, I wasn’t aware of the impact it had in cricket until I started getting calls from England.

After you won the case, what was the reaction from sports bodies and players?

I didn’t face any problem from Deutscher Handballbund. They had a fair relation with me. Many athletes were waiting for the outcome of the case. Many actually wanted to go to court, but nobody wanted to start from zero. If the ruling was favourable, they know that that would set a precedence. I had calls from footballer players from France and Spain during the proceedings. But at the end, when it finally came, the only ‘Thank You’ I got was from a Polish handball player!

South Africa is facing a dilemma over the years with more and more cricketers opting to play county cricket under the Kolpak deal instead of for their national side. This has resulted in a dearth of talent in that country. Your thoughts.

We must understand that the players go when they are offered better conditions. If they are getting good quality facilities, they will stick to where they are. At the same time, the verdict helped them to opt what is best for them.

Brexit is a breather for such countries because they feel they can control the talent drain to England with the UK no longer bound by EU agreements.

I am not aware of the agreement between the UK and the EU. What I know is all these agreements are to be respected and honoured.

When did you start playing the game and when did you land in Germany and what are you doing now?

I started playing handball when I was 10 and played in all age categories, representing the national team. I moved to Germany, spent 14 seasons in TSV Ostringen colours. In 2011, I moved back to Slovakia and played at Kosice and Michalovce. Towards the end of my career, I moved to my native and is presently associated with my home team Tatran Presov where I am training budding goalkeepers.

About the pandemic and its impact on sports.

The current situation has affected our handball season badly but Slovakia is dealing well with the pandemic. We are planning to start pre-season training during the first week of July. It is a good move to delay Tokyo Games by a year, although it has hurt many. I think the pandemic will change sports. We will value things differently and change our priorities.

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