Yes I went there with the title, someone was bound to, don't moan.
It is September 3rd and it's late in the day on the third day of the Roses match in the County Championship. Yorkshire captain Andrew Gale side is fielding and he moves himself closer to Lancashire's South African batsman Ashwell Prince. Then an exchange of words takes place.
At first Gale was reported by the umpires for a level two offence (seriously insulting or obscene language). Because this was his second time this season, he received an automatic two-match ban. Very sad for Gale, as his county was about to win the Championship.
On the eve of Yorkshire's win over Nottinghamshire that sealed the county's first County Championship victory since 2001, they were told that Gale would not be allowed to receive the cup or be part of the official ceremony, pending further investigation.
Today it was revealed in The Telegraph that Gale is to be charged by the ECB with a level three or four charge, for using racist and abusive language. A date for the hearing has not yet been set.
The article quotes the following exchange:
Prince: "F*** off back to cover point."
Gale: "Well you can f*** off back to your own country you Kolpak f*****."
Which part of Gale's sentence is racist? On its own, the "Well you can f*** off back to your own country"-part does appear to be. If I heard this on the street, racism would be my first assumption. But it was not said on its own. In fact, the Telegraph transcript continues with "you Kolpak f*****." without allowing for a pause, not even in the form of the humble comma.
It now becomes important to understand what a Kolpak is.
In 1995, the Bosman ruling had ensured that players from any EU country could not be prevented from working in any other EU country, according to the EU's own principle of freedom of movement of workers. This put paid to rules that prevented teams from fielding more than x foreign players. However, there was no such protection for non-EU players and the German handball league (as many others) still imposed a maximum of two players per team, only now it was directed at non-EU players.
Maroš Kolpak had been playing for TSV Ostringen in the second division since 1997 and was a legal resident and worker in the country (i.e. if he had been a chef or a bank teller, this would never have happened). In 2000 his team decided that there were two other non-EU players they wanted to play more badly than they wanted Kolpak and therefore, under league rules, they could no longer employ him.
In 2003 the European Court of Justice ruled that the Association Agreement that Slovakia had with the EU (at the time, it is now a member) meant that workers and players from that country and any others with similar agreements should be considered equal to EU players.
Back to that fateful third of September:
When seen as a whole, as it should be and as it has been reported, I do not believe Gale's remark had anything to do with race. It is clear to me that his focus was Prince's Kolpak status, a ruling the effects of which the ECB itself has tried to negate ever since it was made.
I certainly do not agree with the Telegraph, which argues that "Kolpak could be construed as racism in this case because Prince is black and was brought up in Apartheid South Africa." I can't even see how they came this conclusion. (You know, like in school when you get marks for the process even when the final answer is wrong.)
I would advise Mr. Gale never to use that phrase again, though.