South African season set for lift-off as Ajax back down

Ajax Cape Town CEO Ari Efstathiou has confirmed that the club will continue to fight for their South African top-flight status in the wake of the 'Ndoro-gate' saga Chris Ricco/BackpagePix

The South African football season is set to get underway as scheduled next Saturday after Ajax Cape Town withdrew their application to interdict the beginning of the campaign in the South Gauteng High Court on Thursday.

It was a surprise move by the club, who had previously been adamant that the league cannot start until their status as either a top-flight team or a second-tier side had been resolved.

That matter is still very much in the air after the Premier Soccer League were earlier on Thursday granted leave to appeal a decision by Judge Denise Fisher that had set aside an arbitration ruling which relegated Ajax.

Fisher had stated that Advocate William Mokhari, who sent Ajax into the National First Division with his ruling, was not the correct forum to hear the case and that only FIFA's Player Status Committee could adjudicate on the matter.

The PSL disagree and have managed to persuade Fisher that another judge may come to a different conclusion, and as such she has given them the opportunity to appeal her decision. The date for that is set to be laid down later on Thursday.

Just why Ajax chose to withdraw their application to interdict the start of the league was not clear - they gave no reasons in court and club CEO Ari Efstathiou and his council Advocate Norman Arendse refused to field questions from the media before leaving.

They later also withdrew a motion to have Fisher's judgement stand while the PSL's appeal was in process, which would have made it very difficult for the league to start.

A clue to their actions may come in the comments of Efstathiou last week to journalists, who said the club would "throw everything at it" in their bid for survival, but later added: "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."

Perhaps now the league has decided to negotiate a settlement with Ajax that would go some way to appeasing them, though just what they would be able to promise is unclear.

The PSL have made it clear they are dead against increasing the number of teams in the league above the current 16, so that would appear off the table.

Would Ajax accept financial compensation, and would this even be offered? Or have Ajax received some assurance that should the matter end up in FIFA's hands, they will be found guilty, as they clearly are, but in receive a lesser sentence that would not see points handed to their opponents and leave them in the relegation play-off position.

KweséESPN attempted to get comment from Ajax, but the multiple requests went unanswered.

The league are pushing on with their season, as they have been compelled to do so by anxious sponsors and broadcast partners.

The season will open with a crunch league clash between defending champions Mamelodi Sundowns and Kaizer Chiefs next Saturday afternoon, a massive fixture to get the competition underway with a bang.

On Thursday the PSL also announced the fixtures for the quarterfinals of the MTN8 competition that includes SuperSport United, despite their status in the competition still being in dispute by the Ajax matter.

SuperSport only gained entry into the lucrative knockout tournament -- which has a first prize of R8-million -- by virtue awarded the points from their 1-0 away loss to Ajax Cape Town last season

SuperSport will have a chance to defend their title at the expense of AmaZulu, who finished eighth in the table before Matsatsantsa received a points boost.

Mokhari stripped Ajax of the points gained in wins over Platinum Stars and SuperSport, 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. Second-tier Black Leopards won the subsequent Promotion/Relegation Play-offs that Ajax say they should have been allowed to contest.