CAPE TOWN - South African football has come a long way from the days when it was always facetiously suggested that a football team was operated from the boot of the owner’s car.
The advent of the PSL has seen the sport make great strides over the last two decades. And, yet, somehow or other, despite the technological, administrative and economic advances, the accumulation of court cases and arbitration hearings in the PSL continue unabated.
While the PSL has structures in place to deal with the grievances of clubs, the festering issue is that such matters tend to drag on and on - and, the more it drags, the more it creates an unhealthy perception of the industry.
This season has been no different - and, as the season winds down to a close - Ajax Cape Town and Cape Town City - are slap-bang in the middle of two increasingly complex cases: Ajax, with the ongoing saga around the eligibility of Tendai Ndoro; and City, who are at odds with the league because of their sponsorship deal with sports betting company, SportPesa. And, with no real solutions forthcoming, it fosters the current climate of uncertainty hovering around the PSL.
Briefly, the Ndoro case has to do with the Zimbabwean striker having played for three clubs during the season - Orlando Pirates, Saudi Arabian club Al-Faisaly and Ajax - which is against Fifa rules.
Ajax believe there are extenuating circumstances to Ndoro’s case, which is why they sought clarity from the PSL’s Dispute Resolution Chamber (DRC) on the player’s eligibility. The DRC said Ndoro can play. The PSL appealed its own DRC and, subsequently, ever since, it has all just unravelled.
The case went to arbitration; Ajax went to the High Court on two occasions; the PSL referred the matter to Fifa, who promptly sent the case back to the PSL. And so, after all that, we are right back to where it all started: and there will now have to be a new arbitration hearing on Ndoro’s eligibility. Also, at the same time, the PSL has referred the case back to Fifa.
To be brutally honest, the case has been a complete shambles right from the very beginning. A whole host of legal technicalities have been at the forefront, while the actual merits of the case have never been looked at. Meanwhile, in all of this, while lawyers and officials play legal games, the livelihoods of players and employees at clubs affected by the impasse continue to hang in the balance.
As for City’s sponsorship case, it’s another matter with which the PSL should tread very carefully. If City are guilty of anything, then it’s in using the sponsorship logo on their jersey without permission. For that, I say fine them heavily.
But, if the league continues on its current route of an arbitration hearing because the Cape side failed to heed a moratorium on signing deals with sports betting companies, then it is on shaky ground.
The moratorium the PSL is alluding to has to do with sports betting rights. Betting companies were using the league's fixtures in their gambling games and betting products. Because it is the PSL’s intellectual property, they even won the case against Gidani, the operator of the South African national lottery, a few years ago. Because of this, it was agreed that an investigation would be launched into sports betting rights.
To date, in that typical dragging of the feet of the PSL, nothing has been done. But, and this is a given, sports betting is something that is difficult to police - for example, all over the world, betting companies are using league fixtures for betting, without permission.
City then signed a shirt sponsorship deal with SportPesa - but, and this is the important point to note, it has nothing to do with betting rights; it has nothing to do with using the PSL’s fixtures as a betting profile. It’s just a sponsorship deal - the league's intellectual property remains intact. So what’s the problem?
The arbitration hearing with regards to City’s deal with SportPesa is scheduled for May some time. Hopefully, before then, some measure of sanity can be reached. Fine the Cape side by all means for an administrative or procedural issue, but there is a massive chasm between sponsorship and betting rights.