Leading Article: Foreign players and the 'ooh ahh' factor

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IT SEEMS unarguable that the presence of gifted, well-known overseas players in this country's cricket and football teams benefits all concerned. First, they help to raise attendance at matches; second, playing with or against them can only raise the game of home- reared players. Yet in the governing circles of both sports, voices have been raised calling for restrictions on imported players - even, in cricket's case, a possible ban.

Yesterday, the Test and County Cricket Board declared a moratorium on new contracts extending beyond 1996, pending a decision at its winter meeting in December. To impose any form of ban on that occasion would be both dictatorial and foolish. It is not as if England's native cricketers are in danger of being kept out of the county game by a host of foreigners: only one per team is allowed, making 18 in all.

Yesterday's move was in response to complaints by Lancashire prompted by the departure for home of its star Pakistani bowler, Wasim Akram, to attend a training camp before Pakistan's tour of Sri Lanka. Irritating though such obligations may be - even if surely foreseeable - they give counties a chance to try those talented domestic players allegedly being kept out by foreigners.

In football the argument is more complicated. No one denies the stimulus given to the British game by star imports in the class of

the Argentine Osvaldo Ardiles, France's Eric Cantona and now Germany's Jurgen Klinsmann.

The question raised by Gordon Taylor, chairman of the Professional Footballers' Association, is whether it is fair to British players for clubs to buy down-the-line foreigners because they are cheaper rather than better. There are now about 115 foreign players in League football. The irresistible conclusion is that British players are over- priced. It is up to clubs to bring more sense to the market place.