Ajax ready to "throw everything" into bid for top-flight place
Ajax Cape Town are going to "throw everything" at their bid to retain their status in the South African top-flight according to club CEO Ari Efstathiou.
Ajax will start with a bid to interdict the start of the 2018-19 Premier Soccer League (PSL) season, scheduled to begin on the weekend of August 3-5, while they will also oppose the PSL's bid for leave for appeal of the ruling of Judge Denise Fisher earlier this month that, for now at least, preserved Ajax's top-flight status.
And the third prong of the fight they are taking to the League is to launch an application that if Fisher does grant the PSL leave to appeal her judgement, her verdict remains in place until that matter is finalised and is not suspended in any way.
Efstathiou admitted on Tuesday that their actions have the potential to throw South African football into "chaos", but says they are fighting for the justice they believe they deserve.
"We will throw everything at it," a grim Efstathiou said during a press conference at the club's headquarters. "Ajax is making every effort to find a solution to a very complex problem and we believe that the only way we can find that solution is to sit around a table and talk.
"We have continually said that and offered to find a compromise that satisfies all parties, at least to some degree, but the League has chosen to go the legal route.
"Ajax is a shareholder and a member of the League. We have no intention to cause issues that cause irreparable damage, we are here to find solutions and find a way forward.
"We have offered every possible avenue to find that, we have gone to FIFA, the [PSL] executive committee, the chairman [Irvin Khoza] and the Board of Governors."
Ajax's position is that although they admit they "slipped up" with the rule that should have prevented them from fielding Zimbabwe striker Tendai Ndoro in January, making them his third club of the 2017-18 season in contravention of FIFA regulations, the punishment they have been handed is unprecedented and too harsh.
On top of that, they feel there has been a lack of support from the League in the matter, support which has in the past been offered to other clubs.
"Without doubt this is unprecedented disciplinary action, it has never happened before in South African football and we have provided a number of examples to show that," Efstathiou said.
"There was also another case in January when SuperSport United tried to register Lebogang Manyama (who had previously turned out for Cape Town City and Turkish side Konyaspor that season) but they were warned by the PSL not to play him.
"We did not receive the same instruction from the League when we registered Ndoro and that would have obviously made a difference for us."
Efstathiou is also of the opinion that should the matter eventually end up on the desk of the FIFA Player Status Committee, as Judge Fisher suggested it should, it would be sent back to the PSL's Dispute Resolution Chamber, which has already ruled in the club's favour.
A further sticking point for the PSL is that the South Gauteng High Court, where they are lodging their leave to appeal the ruling of Fisher, is on recess and only officially back in chambers on July 30.
Efstathiou says Ajax have joined the League in petitioning for the case to be heard earlier, even though they are opposing the leave to appeal, in order to expedite the process.
All the while the players are left in limbo, unsure whether they will be in the top-flight or the second tier next season, and Efstathiou says this has also hindered their ability to improve their squad - which has already been trimmed of last season's loan signings and now-free agents, including Ndoro ironically.
"We have got to try and keep them [the players] in the frame of mind of being professional wherever they are playing next season, but they are as confused as all of us. We are trying to keep them focussed on the field and not off it.
"There is also confusion on our side about how do we strengthen the squad, do we go to the expense of bringing in PSL earning players into what could be a National First Division structure? We are sitting in limbo while all the other clubs are strengthening."
Ajax stand accused of fielding Ndoro in Absa Premiership league matches last season despite the fact that they were his third club of the season.
Players may be registered for three clubs, but only turn out for two, and Ndoro had already represented Orlando Pirates and Saudi Arabian side Al-Faisaly.
Arbiter William Mokhari stripped Ajax of the points gained in wins over Platinum Stars and SuperSport United, as well as a draw with Polokwane City, last season and awarded the matches 3-0 to their opponents.
That relegated Ajax in bottom place in the league stadnings and pushed SuperSport United into the top eight at the expense of AmaZulu. Second-tier Black Leopards won the subsequent Promotion/Relegation Play-offs that Ajax say they should have been allowed to contest.
But his ruling was later set aside by Fisher, who ruled he did not have jurisdiction to hear the matter.
The League are now suggesting that Fisher had erred and that Mokhari's arbitration is the correct forum.