This blog was co-authored by Katelyn-mae Carter, candidate attorney at Norton Rose Fulbright South Africa.

In this case Upington City Football Club filed an urgent application for an interim interdict to prevent the National Soccer League (NSL) from holding promotion and relegation playoffs pending the outcome of the application.

The case revolved around the NSL handbook Rule 35.2 which requires that every team must have a minimum of two under-23 players on the field at all times. The case was ultimately dismissed with costs on the reliability of the video evidence over the reports of officials.

The issue arose from a match played between Upington FC and Milford FC on 6 April 2024. The match commissioner reported the following to the court:
1. In the 65th minute of the game, Milford FC substituted possibly three or four players. Two under 23 players were substituted leaving only one on the field. The match continued for about four minutes while Upington FC protested.
2. There was engagement with the fourth official and only in the 69th minute did Milford introduce another under-23 player to ensure their compliance. Milford won the match 3-0.

Upington FC contended that Milford FC had fewer than two under-23 players at all times during the match, relying on the report of the commissioner and another official. Milford FC denied the contravention.

The matter was initially heard by the NSL’s Disciplinary Committee, who determined from the video evidence that Milford FC did not contravene rule. Upington unsuccessfully appealed this decision to an arbitrator who, acting with sole discretion, upheld the Disciplinary Committee’s decision. Upington FC sought to review the arbitrator’s decision in the High Court under the Promotion of Access to Justice Act because the process involved the disclosing of public functions.

The High Court heard the application on Saturday, 1 June 2024, the day before the first of the matches Upington FC sought to interdict. The High Court dismissed the application with costs on the basis that:
1. Upington FC did not establish a prima facie right to the relief sought;
2. The decision of the arbitrator was rational having regard to the evidence before them;
3. There was no well-grounded apprehension of irreparable harm if the matches went ahead;
4. The balance of convenience did not favour granting the interim relief;
5. The balance of convenience strongly favoured the NSL in letting the matches proceed.
The NSL final four teams depended on the outcome, three of whom had nothing to do with the dispute.