11th September 2017

PFAI plans appeal against sanctions issued to Athlone Town players

The Professional Footballers Association of Ireland (PFAI) is prepared to take its appeal against sanctions issued to two Athlone Town players by the Football Association of Ireland (FAI) for match-fixing to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS). On 7 September, the players, Igors Labuts and Dragos Sfrijan, were found guilty of breaching three FAI rules: Rule 99: Bringing the Game into Disrepute, Rule 105: Manipulating Matches and Rule 106: Betting/Gambling. It is understood that the FAI has issued both players with a 12 month ban.

A statement issued by the PFAI suggested foul play on the part of the FAI. It said that the panel had been ‘hand picked’ by the FAI, and that there was no evidence that the two players had been involved in match-fixing.

‘The FAI arbitrarily convened a three man panel to study the footage in conjunction with evidence of irregular betting patterns’, continued the PFAI statement. ‘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. 

‘At the hearing, one of these experts did not appear and his opinion was withdrawn while another, who had expressed reservations, changed his view.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 […] We will appeal this decision and will take this as far as the Court of Arbitration for Sport if necessary.’

A statement from the club rejected the ‘outrageous’ findings. ‘The club is left with the conclusion that the outcome was predetermined and reflects a face saving exercise for certain people within the game rather any forum where truth or justice could prevail’, it read.

The club also raised concerns about the motives behind finding the players guilty, suggesting that the players may have been made the fall guys for larger scale corruption. It has called for Ireland’s police (Gardaí), Europol and Interpol to investigate.

‘No evidence of any betting profits was tendered or offered, and the amount supposedly bet on the game against Longford Town is unknown to the investigators’, continued its statement. ‘Those in the media who quote six figure sums being involved either know something UEFA and FAI say is unknown to them or have been given misleading information in a further attempt to blacken the club’s name. No evidence of a conspiracy exists.

‘There was no evidence of profits been made by players or anybody related to the players notwithstanding the fact that complete disclosure have been made no such evidence existed. It is extraordinary that the players were convicted on no more than opinion evidence that could never come close to standing up in a Court of law or any truly independent investigatory forum.’

The FAI began its investigation after receiving information from the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) in May last year that games involving the club warranted investigation. It is understood that UEFA’s concerns were sparked after a new investor (Callaview Limited) brought new players to the club who had previously been involved in matches scrutinised by UEFA.

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