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What A Joke!

Our football administrators continue to leave us dumbfounded around this time of the season! Instead of finishing the season without any hassles, we are subjected to boardroom proceedings that will determine the eventual league title winners, instead of it happening on the field of play.

Over a week since the last round of fixtures in the GladAfrica Championship were played, we still don’t know who won the automatic promotion to the DStv Premiership. For some strange reasons, we have continued to find ourselves in a similar position where, come towards the end of the season, there are controversial boardroom cases whose outcomes seal other teams’ fate, whether it is league championship or relegation. This leaves some people in an unfavorable position. Let’s just say, what is happening in the GladAfrica Championship is not new to South African football. In the past five seasons or so, we’ve had similar instances, although they didn’t amount to the same drama, either because of the end results or because settlements were reached. 

The GladAfrica Group has invested a lot of money into our second-tier professional football league, now known as GAC, in the five-year deal as the title sponsor that they entered into last year. The move was hailed by all as one of the best things to happen to our Beautiful Game as it goes a long way in trying to bridge the gap between the elite division and their ‘juniors’. Little did this Group know that in only their second season, they wouldn’t know whether they were coming or going after the final matches of the season. We went into the final round under a cloud and I kept asking myself why did the two teams’ games have to go ahead when there was still a dispute pending, with a cloud hanging over the league? I’m talking about the dispute that involves Sekhukhune United and Polokwane City, where the former, rightfully, lodged a protest against the latter’s decision to field ineligible players during their encounter in January. Sekhukhune ticked all the boxes and the League referred the matter to the SAFA arbitration, whose rule would be binding and have to be implemented. You all know the timeline of the events since then. The arbitration ruled in favour of Sekhukhune and ordered that they be awarded the three points. 

What intrigued me was not just the arbitration’s ruling but the League’s decision to ‘appeal’ the ruling. To me, as a layman, that means the arbitration’s independence is at the League’s mercy and therefore undermined. The very same arbitration that was appointed by the League to preside over this case. Talk about appointing a coach and then coaching for him! What has also been very strange about this case is the fact that it was left until this late into the season. Something that happened in January to only be decided on in May. Yes, there have been challenges, like Polokwane changing their tune, from time to time, but nothing really stopped this case from being finalised earlier in the season. It has happened a lot of times where cases are not expedited and left until right at the end before a decision is taken. Top of my head, the Wayne Arendse saga – you’ll remember him being on the stands and then drafted into the Mamelodi Sundowns team at the eleventh hour against the now-defunct Bidvest Wits. Downs were in a strong league title tussle with Orlando Pirates, at the time, and the Students’ protest threatened the Brazilians’ grip on the top spot, leading to their then head coach, Pitso Mosimane, declaring, “Let the title go where it is supposed to go!” Most of these cases have been swept under the carpet as soon as it became evident that the complainant stood to benefit little or nothing from the outcomes, in the bigger scheme of things. Again, such determination, looking from a distance, was arrived at once there was no mathematical benefit for the complainant even if they were to get favourable results. 

This time around, going into the last lap of the race, Sekhukhune had been awarded the three points by the arbitration but, lo and behold, the League reacted with a surprising media statement that, not in so many words, confirmed they would challenge the ruling. That would explain why the ruling wasn’t implemented and the log standings not updated because if it did, Sekhukhune would have gone to the last game on par with Royal AM, at 50 points, but on top of the log on goal difference. As fate would have it, Sekhukhune won their last game of the season 3-1 away to JDR Stars, while AM had to come from behind to force a 1-1 draw at home against Cape Town All Stars. AM went into the game knowing that a draw would be enough for them to be crowned champions. Now, if it wasn’t for that late penalty for AM, which resulted in their equaliser, we wouldn’t be here today still talking about an arbitration case, as Sekhukhune would be on top of the log and subsequently promoted automatically.

The DStv Premiership rescheduled the last round of fixtures to accommodate teams that were taking part in continental football. Two of those teams, Sundowns and Pirates, played their last catch-up games this past weekend. Surely the same principle could have been used in an attempt to get to the bottom of this case before the last games were played. Forgive me for being a conspiracy theorist, for once, I just can’t shake the feeling that someone was hoping for a favourable result in the last round so that there would be no need to pursue the case any further. By a ‘favourable result’ make of that whatever you want! There is a result that would have nullified this case, but since it didn’t happen, we had two teams celebrating their ‘automatic promotion’ to the DStv Premiership, when there’s only one spot allocated in the elite league for a GAC winner. Talk about jokes writing themselves out! What a joke and making a mockery of our esteemed league! Who will be getting the automatic promotion? Why did we have to go to the last round of fixtures without this issue having been resolved? Whose interests are being served here? 

The weight of the three points awarded to Sekhukhune is heavier now than it was in January, where no one would have been bothered by the stakes. If this case was expedited, as it should have, the League would have saved themselves the embarrassment that they are going through right now. Foresight would have dictated that this should be prevented at all costs, looking at the possible permutations. The powers that be have done a tremendous job of improving our second-tier league by securing them a lucrative sponsorship deal. Just recently, we saw both our professional leagues completed amid the COVID-19 pandemic, thanks to the management’s impeccable planning and execution, while most other leagues were cancelled. Everything went seamless under trying circumstances, but how do you drop the ball from that perfect scenario to this, in such a short space of time? Come on, guys! 

Cheers,

VeeJay 

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