Will this season’s GladAfrica Championship winner be decided on or off the field? This is the question everyone is asking ahead of today’s final round of NFD matches.
A legal battle could be on the cards following the turn of events mid-week. The PSL hinted as much in a memo to the clubs on Friday when it said it was “currently seeking legal advice” over an arbitration ruling that went in favour of automatic promotion-chasers Sekhukhune United.
The arbitration ruling means the NFD newcomers are meant to be on 50 points, ahead of fellow hopefuls Royal AM, by virtue of a superior goal difference. But the PSL has not yet updated the GladAfrica Championship rankings.
It means the teams in the second tier are heading into today’s final fixtures with uncertainty clouding what could have been a “Super Sunday”, with a R3 million prize purse also at stake.
The cat was thrown among the pigeons in the battle for promotion when an arbitrator ruled that the PSL disciplinary committee had erred in not awarding Sekhukhune the three points the league had docked Polokwane City for contravening the rules.
This stemmed from the January 2 fixture between the two sides when City failed, as per the PSL handbook’s article 3.2, to include on their team sheet five Under-23 players.
The rule further states that the two Under-23 players must be on the field of play at all times during a match. But if a team has made all its substitutions and left two Under-23 players on the field and one or both are injured or receive a red card, the team must complete the match with 10 or fewer players. This will not constitute a contravention.
City, who won 1-0, played only four Under-23 players that afternoon, allegedly after an outbreak of Covid-19 in the squad.
Sekhukhune, who had lodged a protest before the match, appealed the PSL ruling and got a favourable verdict on Wednesday.
In his ruling, which City Press has seen, arbitrator Hilton Epstein SC ruled that City had forfeited the match to Sekhukhune with a 3-0 scoreline and a R100 000 suspended fine.
But in a sensational twist, the PSL appeared to disagree with the arbitration ruling, arguing that this has “created uncertainty in relation to the discretion afforded to PSL disciplinary committee to determine an appropriate sanction for acts of misconduct in each case.
“It is the view of the league that it is not correct, as the arbitration ruling holds, that the PSL disciplinary code is silent and that the disciplinary committee had to impose a mandatory sanction under the Fifa disciplinary code,” read the PSL statement issued on Friday.
Interestingly, in the memo sent to clubs – also seen by City Press – the PSL said it was seeking legal advice, but this was not fully spelt out in the media statement.
“I note that some consternation has been created among member clubs as a result of the arbitration ruling. Please note that the NSL is currently seeking legal advice on this issue and will be considering its options in relation to the arbitration,” read the last part of the document, which was signed by acting PSL CEO Mato Madlala.
Sekhukhune’s lawyer, Advocate Norman Arendse SC, declined to comment but City Press understands the club has demanded that PSL enforce the ruling.
A legal expert who adjudicated in a previous dispute involving the docking of points told City Press that a precedent was set in the protracted legal saga involving former Zimbabwean striker Tendai Ndoro and Ajax Cape Town three years ago.
Attorney Piet Tibane said that, hypothetically, the crowning of a champion could be challenged in court.
- In this case, if a club feels that another club is about to be unjustly crowned champions, that can be challenged,” said Tibane of Morakile Attorneys.
Ajax were docked points for using Ndoro, whose eligibility was contested – and other clubs were given those points. Ajax suffered automatic relegation.
Ndoro was deemed to be ineligible after playing for three different clubs in one season.
The PSL recently awarded three points to Cape Town Spurs after their opponents Cape United failed to pitch for their scheduled match in January.
A defeat for Sekhukhune today could spare the PSL blushes as Royal will gain automatic promotion – if they win their match.