The board of Athlone Town FC say the investigation into alleged match fixing has turned into a “witch hunt” rather than a probe to establish the truth.
The board were responding to the Football Association of Ireland (FAI ) bringing charges against members of Athlone Town FC for bringing the game into disrepute, manipulating matches, and betting and/or gambling on matches.
In a statement, the board says the club and all affiliated to it have co-operated fully with the investigation, but that the process initiated by UEFA and the FAI is “deeply flawed” as it relies solely on the opinion of three experts from the football community requested to study video footage of the games in question.
“The entire process appears to have been one aimed at manufacturing and creating evidence by way of expert opinions should no real hard evidence exist,” the statement reads.
The board says the form the FAI investigation has taken ignores the basic human rights and civil liberties of those accused, all of whom resolutely deny the charges levelled at them.
They add that the national and international media coverage of the investigation is already having detrimental effects, including the loss of one of the club’s major sponsors.
The board say they were of the understanding the investigation concerned alleged match fixing and attempts to manipulate the outcome of certain first-team games, and are therefore surprised to discover that two members have been charged with matters unconnected to claims that large sums of money had been wagered on international betting markets.
The board say two individuals are being subjected to charges alleging they placing several bets on teams competing in League of Ireland competitions amounting to a total of approximately €34.06, but that none of those bets were placed on the outcome of the Longford Town game, the focus of the investigation.
“We are of the opinion that not even our harshest critics would accept that several bets with Irish bookies totalling about €34.06 have anything to do with an alleged mysterious Chinese football agent attempting to manipulate games in several different jurisdictions to make a six-figure killing on the Asian markets,” the statement reads.
The board says it is seeking legal advice and will take all steps necessary upon such recommendations to vindicate the rights of the individuals concerned.