• PFA Ireland statement re Athlone Town investigation

    We represent Igor Labuts and Dragos Sfrijan who have been found guilty by a disciplinary panel hand picked by the FAI of breaching three FAI rules, Rule 99: Bringing the Game into Disrepute, Rule 105: Manipulating Matches and Rule 106: Betting/Gambling. It was with great disappointment and shock that such a result has occurred from what was a most serious charge with such flimsy evidence.

    To be completely clear, 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. At the hearing, one of these experts did not appear and his opinion was withdrawn while another, who had expressed reservations, changed his view.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 decision of the disciplinary panel makes no reference to the substantial expert evidence which contradicts the finding and ignores the fact that in 93.7% of all cases reported by the BFDS betting monitor where irregular betting patterns exist, no sanctions were administered.

    Quite simply, the most serious allegation that can be made against a footballer must be backed up by overwhelming evidence, not half-baked innuendo.

    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.