It's not cricket say Northern Ireland clubs as rules force out overseas stars
Two cricket clubs in Northern Ireland are claiming that they have lost out on professional international players because of little-known Home Office immigration rules.
Armagh and Lurgan have joined frustrated clubs across the UK over Home Office immigration guidance, meant to clarify existing rules, which could diminish the sport by preventing overseas players from joining local teams.
The Home Office has insisted the changes are intended to protect opportunities for British players, but it has been reported that one English club has brought a legal challenge over the guidance.
In the past some young players have stayed in the UK, including the South African Kevin Pietersen, who went on to captain the English team.
Currently the main contention is over the Home Office's consideration of someone who has in the past or seeks to in the future derive a living from playing or coaching at any level of sport, effectively barring them from amateur clubs.
The General Secretary of the Northern Cricket Union (NCU) has called for professional cricketers to be allowed to revert to amateur status over the "increasingly stringent" application of immigration policy.
Bryan Milford said that he has made proposals to Cricket Ireland, the sport's official governing body, and he hopes that they will be relayed to Home Office officials.
"They should be able to revert to amateur status after a certain period of time", he told the Belfast Telegraph. "It's unfair that they are still categorised as professional long after they have ceased to play at that level."
Armagh Cricket Club has already had to let veteran Indian cricketer Indrajeet Kamtekar go earlier this year.
The club suffered the devastating blow just one year after welcoming the steady right-handed batsman as their overseas player for the 2016 season following a successful fundraising effort from the management committee.
Lurgan Cricket Club has also lost Niranjan Godbole, who had played in the NCU for 15 years.
Bryan has now called for a resolution of the issue before the start of the 2018 cricket season to stop clubs and whole communities from losing out.
He has claimed that the rules are being applied too stringently.
"I hope that the Home Office will engage with Cricket Ireland and changes can be made before next season because this hasn't just affected these two men, it continues to diminish other clubs who intended to bring new talent from overseas," he said
"Local cricket will certainly be worse off as a result of lost talent, but so will the schools and summer schemes where these players coach hundreds of children and introduce them to the game.
"In my opinion this is a more stringent application of existing laws rather than a reinterpretation of the rules, but it affects entire communities, not just the game of cricket."
But a Home Office spokesperson has strongly rejected the criticism coming from clubs all across the UK.
"The Home Office strongly refutes the suggestion we are blocking foreign players coming to play cricket or stopping clubs from accessing players who would benefit the growth of the game," they told the Belfast Telegraph.
"There are no new regulations governing visas for cricketers.
"The rules and guidance have been consistent since 2008.
"In 2015 we simply provided further clarification on what defines a professional.
"The system is designed to protect opportunities for sportspeople resident in the UK who are hoping to make a current or future living in the sport."