Latest: Athlone Town reject 'outrageous findings' against their players

Update 5.25pm: Athlone Town say they reject the “outrageous findings” made against their players, Igor Labuts and Dragos Sfrijan, who have been banned for 12 months, writes Stephen Barry.

The Athlone duo were found guilty of the manipulation of matches, gambling and bringing the game into disrepute, a charge brought by the FAI and decided by an Independent Disciplinary Committee.

However, the club, like the Professional Footballers’ Association of Ireland (PFAI), have challenged the fairness of the disciplinary system.

Igor Labuts and Dragos Sfrijan

“Our position is that today's determinations fly in the face of the evidence presented before the disciplinary committee, and are perverse,” said a statement from the Athlone Town Board of Management.

The club will support the players’ appeal, as will the PFAI.

Igors Labuts. Photo: Eddie O’Hare

“The very public manner in which this investigation has been handled has caused significant and long lasting damage to the club, its officials, players and staff,” said the club.

“Our complaints against the process are many and detailed.

“It is our opinion that the evidence presented against the players was exceptionally flimsy, and based on opinion only.

“The club takes exception to the use of the FAI's description of "clear and overwhelming" evidence of match manipulation being present in the case.

“It was anything but.

Dragos Sfrijan. Photo: David Maher/Sportsfile

“In relation to Dragos Sfrijan who was found to have attempted to manipulate matches amounted to nothing more than a missed kick.

“Yet he has been found him (sic) guilty of manipulating the outcome of a game despite the fact he was carrying a significant and serious injury (dislocated shoulder) at the time.”

They also dispute the €400,000 figure reportedly staked on the game, and say there was no evidence of profits made by players or anybody related to the players.

“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,” they say.

Update 3.40pm: The Professional Footballers’ Association of Ireland (PFAI) have expressed “great disappointment and shock” at the 12-month suspensions handed to two Athlone Town players.

The players’ union represents Igor Labuts and Dragos Sfrijan, who were found guilty of the manipulation of matches, gambling and bringing the game into disrepute.

But the PFAI says the charges were based on “flimsy evidence” and “half-baked innuendo”.

“No evidence exists that these players were guilty of any such offence,” the PFAI said in a statement.

“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.”

The PFAI conclude: “No player in the history of sport has been found guilty of match fixing on such little evidence. All of the comparative jurisprudence in Europe demonstrates a requirement for substantial proof in the face of such allegations. This case is an outlier.

“There is an obligation on sports authorities to treat players with fairness and not seek to scapegoat them in order to gain cheap wins in what is a serious global problem. Players must be protected against injustice by ensuring that proper procedures, fairness and natural justice applies in all matters of this nature.

"Although both have received a year long ban, the effect of such a finding is of a lifetime ban as the stain of this allegation is career ending. The damage already done to these players is irreversible but they will fight to reclaim what is left of their good names.

“We will appeal this decision and will take this as far as the Court of Arbitration for Sport if necessary.”

Original story: Two Athlone Town players have been banned from all football-related activities for 12 months after an FAI investigation into match-fixing, writes Stephen Barry.

Lativan goalkeeper Igor Labuts and Romanian defender Dragos Sfrijan were found to have breached three FAI rules by an Independent Disciplinary Committee.

        They were:

      • Rule 99: Bringing the Game into Disrepute;
      • Rule 105: Manipulating Matches; and
      • Rule 106: Betting / Gambling.

The investigation concentrated solely on Athlone’s 3-1 defeat to Longford Town on April 29, after insufficient evidence was found by investigators examining two other games that were flagged.

A UEFA Betting Fraud Detection System report demonstrated “clear and overwhelming betting evidence that the course or result of this match was unduly influenced with a view to gaining corrupt betting profits”.

It was reported that around €400,000 was staked on the game, largely in Asian betting markets.

A last-minute goal by Longford’s Enda Curran secured his hat-trick and a 3-1 win in the match.


 

By Stephen Barry

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