18-team league unlikely as PSL crisis rumbles on

Tashreeq Morris of Ajax Cape Town sits dejected after the club was relegated Ryan Wilkisky/BackpagePix

The Premier Soccer League's (PSL) decision to appeal the ruling of Judge Denise Fisher almost certainly means the postponement of the start of the new 2018/19 season ... the question now is for how long.

Fisher on Monday decided to set aside the arbitration ruling that relegated Ajax Cape Town to the National First Division, arguing that only FIFA can adjudicate on the matter between the Urban Warriors and the PSL.

An emergency meeting of the PSL's executive committee made the decision on Thursday, but still need it to be ratified by the General Council, which will only happen next Thursday.

It means that the earliest that the process can begin will be July 13, just three weeks before the scheduled start of the new campaign.

The process could take weeks, months even, to complete, especially if Ajax employ 'Stalingrad tactics' to intentionally stall the process and pile the pressure on the league to bring it to a conclusion as quickly as possible.

The league's chairman, Irvin Khoza, said on Thursday that they were aware their appeal places them under pressure; not just with expectant fans, but also broadcasters and sponsors, but seemed to suggest the league had little other choice.

A solution that has previously been suggested, to expand the top division to 18 clubs for the 2018/19 season to accommodate all parties, appears to be off the table for now as the league has not budgeted for the eventuality.

"There is no budget for that option," a KweséESPN source said. "I really don't think the clubs will go for it because it would mean they would have to dig into their own pockets to reduce their monthly grant.

"The grant would need to be lowered to accommodate the two extra clubs and which team is going to vote to receive less money when already many have stretched budgets? I cannot say that it definitely won't happen, but I really doubt it."

Khoza said on Thursday that an expanded league had not yet been discussed, but that it could be raised as a topic at the General Council meeting next week.

The problem for the league is one of time. Ajax have already said they will fight their corner and should a PSL appeal be successful, however long that takes, they have suggested they will take their battle to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in Switzerland, the highest judicial body in sport and their last avenue for a reprieve.

CAS can hear cases urgently, but it will still take some time to lodge their appeal, get councils to agree on a date, and have the hearing and verdict concluded.

Every week that passes after the scheduled start of the league on August 3 will put further strain on an already pressurised fixture list in the coming campaign.

And the league cannot even shuffle around their knockout competitions, as they have done in the past, to play those first before the start of the the league. That is because the eight sides to enter the MTN8 are not yet finalized as the matter between the league and Ajax needs to be concluded first as it has had a knock-on effect in the top-half of the table.

AmaZulu originally finished eighth, but the award of three points to Ajax's opponents SuperSport United saw them leapfrog Usuthu. If Ajax are successful, AmaZulu will stay eighth, and if the PSL win, SuperSport will likely take their place.

So that competition, which is scheduled to start on the weekend of August 11-12, also cannot go ahead.

It is a right royal mess that can have a devastating effect on local football, but as things stand, neither party is willing to back down, despite it dragging on for close to seven months when Ajax fielded Tendai Ndoro.

It was the Zimbabwean's third club of the season after South African side Orlando Pirates and Saudi Arabian outfit Al-Faisaly. He was able to gain a player registration card because FIFA rules allow a player to be registered for three clubs, but to only play for two in a single season.

Having initially been given a mandate by the PSL's Dispute Resolution Chamber to play Ndoro though, this was later rescinded on appeal by the PSL themselves, and the matter went to arbitration ... twice.

On the second occasion, Advocate William Mokhari ruled that Ajax should forfeit wins over Platinum Stars and SuperSport United, as well as a draw against Polokwane City, with those fixtures handed as 3-0 wins to their opponents.

That pushed Ajax from the relegation play-off position in the Absa Premiership to last place and automatic relegation.

They have since had that decision set aside on review by Fisher, but the latter's findings will now also be put to the test.