Picture: ISTOCK
Picture: ISTOCK

The Premier Soccer League faces a hard look at its judicial structures and a possible overhaul in the aftermath of "Ndorogate"‚ the protracted legal affair over Ajax Cape Town’s use of the Zimbabwean international striker that ultimately cost them their top-flight status.

Last week, Ajax were forced to accept their relegation from the Premiership and a first season in the National First Division (NFD) when they ran out of legal options ahead of the start of the new campaign. The five-month court battle included numerous hearings and four separate trips to the high court.

"We’ve been stalled by the legal process‚ by time and, really, you are running up against a brick wall if you persist‚" said Ajax lawyer Norman Arendse.

The court battles set new legal precedents, which means the PSL now faces having to review its structures or go through long-running sagas in future that will again affect its image negatively.

The PSL has in place a disciplinary committee and a dispute resolution chamber to handle issues, and an appeal system‚ which is controlled by the South African Football Association.

If parties are still dissatisfied‚ the independent arbitration system‚ which used to be final and binding, can be used. But during the Ajax process‚ the High Court in Johannesburg found that arbitrations are not binding but open to review by the courts.

Legal action, which Safa would want to see end at the arbitration stage, can therefore no longer be contained within the sport’s structures, but can continue to courts.

The Ajax saga had many consequences‚ added Arendse‚ a veteran of PSL legal issues and a former Safa executive committee member.

"Judge [David] Unterhalter found arbitration awards are now no longer final and binding. People can now run to court.

"Arbitrators‚ when they sit‚ take administrative action which is judicable in a court of law.

"Even though Ajax had to run through this whole gauntlet of matters‚ there were some achievements in the process."

Given the need for a speedy resolution to judicial matters in football‚ as witnessed by the protracted saga around Tendai Ndoro, who should not have played for Ajax last season as a player cannot play for three clubs in a single campaign‚ football matters are best left out of the courts.

Once it gets to that stage‚ it can lead to lengthy delays and, in the case of Ajax, an unfavourable outcome‚ even though they have yet to be found guilty.

If it were to be judged like a boxing match, Ajax are ahead in the judicial battle‚ but have effectively been knocked out.

Their bid to have the arbitration of advocate William Mokhari‚ who fined them points and caused their relegation, to be set aside succeeded after they claimed he had no jurisdiction.

But when Judge Denise Fisher allowed the PSL to appeal her ruling in favour of the Cape Town club‚ she effectively condemned the saga to another months-long hiatus and gave Ajax only one immediate option: to try interdicting the start of the season‚ which they said they knew would not succeed.

"Everybody took quite a risk‚ including the league‚" said Ajax owner Ari Efstathiou in the wake of his decision to accept having to play in the NFD.

"It is going to be interesting to see when the next case comes up‚ how the PSL deal with it because there is now [a] precedent‚" he added.