The Football Association of Ireland (FAI ) last week handed down 12 month bans to two Athlone Town players, after an investigation found them guilty of unduly influencing games with a view to gaining corrupt betting profits.
Town goalkeeper Igor Labuts and midfielder Dragos Sfrijan have been found guilty of three offences: Rule 99 - Bringing the Game into Disrepute; Rule 105 - Manipulating Matches; and Rule 106: Betting/Gambling.
On May 3, an investigation was launched following a UEFA Betting Fraud Detection System report demonstrated “clear and overwhelming betting evidence that the course or result of” Athlone Town’s game against Longford Town in the SSE Airtricity League First Division on April 29 was unduly influenced.
The investigation was then widened on May 5 to take a closer look at two other games involving the club. However, the investigators found that there was insufficient evidence around those games to bring any charges, so the investigation focused solely on the game that took place on April 29.
After a meeting of the investigating committee on September 4, the players were found guilty and handed the year long bans.
The Professional Footballers Association of Ireland (PFAI ) has come out strong in defence of the two players, which they represent.
A PFAI statement read: “This association and these players find the concept of match manipulation and anything that affects the integrity of this sport completely unacceptable and we believe it should be met with harsh punishment where it is proven with appropriate evidence.
“This is not such a case. In fact, no evidence exists that these players were guilty of any such offence. They cooperated fully with the investigation and provided all phone records and any bank accounts that they had to the FAI. None of these records were used at the hearing and no suggestion has been made that they indicated any untoward behaviour.
“Instead, the FAI arbitrarily convened a three man panel to study the footage in conjunction with evidence of irregular betting patterns. No rule exists for such a panel but it was nonetheless asked to determine if these players performed in an adequate or illogical manner. Of these three, only two reached an opinion that they had, while a third, though expressing reservations, said he felt there was not enough evidence.”
The PFAI added that at the hearing, one of these experts did not appear and his opinion was withdrawn while another, who had expressed reservations, changed his view. A further expert was introduced, a sports consultant from Austria, who had never seen a League of Ireland match before, and he refused to say whether he felt the actions of the player in question was deliberate or not.
“The players engaged four experts, including three of Ireland’s best known broadcasting pundits and another leading coach, all of whom expressed the opinion that there was not enough evidence to find the players guilty of match manipulation and that the errors in the match were typical of that standard of football,” the statement continued.
The PFAI say both players will continue to fight to clear their name, with the help of the organistion, taking the case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport if necessary.