D-Day looms as PSL Ajax Cape Town crisis rumbles on
Premier Soccer League officials have told KweséESPN they have no idea if the new season will begin as scheduled on August 3 as Ajax Cape Town prepare to interdict the start of the new campaign on Tuesday.
There are under two weeks to the scheduled start of the season and yet no official fixtures have been released by the PSL - leaving fans guessing as to who their teams' opening opponents will be.
KweséESPN has seen a draft version of the fixtures that has Bidvest Wits opening their campaign against Free State Stars on Friday next week, but whether that match goes ahead or not can have dire consequences for South African football.
"We don't know what is going to happen, the matter is with the courts and we will have to wait for the outcome," a PSL insider told KweséESPN on condition of anonymity.
"But obviously there is a lot of concern because there is no room to move in the calendar this season, so a delay in the start of the season could have a disastrous effect.
"The start of the African Nations Cup next year [on June 7] means that we have to finish the season in May. With the change in the dates of the CAF competitions, there is just no room to move."
Ajax CEO Ari Efstathiou has acknowledged the "chaos" the club's bid to halt the start of the league will create, but says they feel they have been backed into a corner as the PSL has not entertained their suggestions of finding a compromise to the Tendai Ndoro saga, which has raged on since January.
"We have continually offered to find a compromise that satisfies all parties, at least to some degree, but the league has chosen to go the legal route," Efstathiou told reporters last week.
"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.
"We are now left with no other option but to proceed with the action we are taking. I have told the Board of Governors that this is not a personal issue, it is a business decision, and that in our shoes any of them would have done the same."
If Ajax fail in tomorrow's bid to interdict the start of the league, matches will go ahead even while they challenge their relegation from the top-flight at the end of last season.
If in, say, a months' time they are successful in challenging their relegation, what will happen to the results of the matches played to that date is unclear, though in all likelihood Ajax will simply be added to the top-flight and have to play catch-up with their fixtures.
The PSL is reluctant to add more teams to the top-flight as it will then mean the other 16 clubs having to lower their monthly grant to accommodate the new arrival(s).
Of course, the issue is also having a knock-on effect for the National First Division (NFD) clubs, who also have not learnt when their season will be kicking off.
The NFD has a little more wiggle-room as they are only involved in one knockout competition, the Nedbank Cup, and do not have to worry about CAF dates as well.
But the uncertainty will be unsettling for teams trying to prepare for the new campaign as pre-season at any level is something of an art. The physical and tactical build-up is planned meticulously to work towards a specific date, and if that date is moved - in this case perhaps considerably later - then those plans are thrown out of kilter.
Of course, whatever happens on Tuesday it is not the end of the matter. The league is challenging a ruling from Judge Denise Fisher that overturned an arbitration award in the favour of the PSL which had relegated Ajax.
That matter is likely to be heard only on July 30, at the earliest, and is merely for the league to petition Fisher for the leave to appeal her judgement. If she grants that leave, then the process starts again with a new judge and could take weeks to complete.
Ajax stand accused of fielding Ndoro in 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 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 asserted that he did not have jurisdiction to hear the matter and it should rather go before FIFA's Player Status Committee.
The league are now suggesting that Fisher had erred and that Mokhari's arbitration is the correct forum.