Open-door policy criticised

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The Budweiser League will throw open its doors to foreign players next season, scrapping the current limit of two imports per club. Next season, when the salary cap will be increased by 35 per cent, clubs will be required to have only five British players on their roster, allowing for five foreigners. This interim step heralds further relaxation in the number of foreigners set to play in Britain.

Behind yesterday's statement that "we will be creating an even more exciting product with more top-quality overseas talent on display," the League's chief executive, Mike Smith, is plainly aware of the minefield they have decided to cross.

Few quality Americans or Europeans will be attracted by the salary-capped English game, and some clubs will find it cheaper to import the likes of Hungarians, Czechs and Latvians, rather than nurture their own development programmes.

"Some clubs may go for the short-term quick fix by loading with foreigners," Smith said. "We know there is a danger of that. When the clubs started to discuss this move none of us were happy that we can no longer safeguard the places of English players at English clubs. We recognise a number of our best players will move abroad and that there isn't going to be a return flow of the best players from other countries."

The England team coach, Laszlo Nemeth, said: "It is sad news. It definitely cannot help English players or the national team." He would prefer to boost the status of domestic players, rather than attract foreigners.

's international federation, Fiba, is to allow freedom of movement between EU countries, but Smith said: "We believe Fiba will be forced to go totally open all over Europe, and that's 50 countries."

But next season, any league club with up to five foreigners will have to abide by the existing Fiba "two foreigner" rule in European club competitions.