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Thursday 19 October 2017

Athlone players in fight to save careers after FAI match-fixing ban

Athlone Town’s Latvian goalkeeper Igors Labuts, pictured, and Romanian defender Dragos Sfrijan were both banned from ‘all football activity’ for 12 months by the FAI
Athlone Town’s Latvian goalkeeper Igors Labuts, pictured, and Romanian defender Dragos Sfrijan were both banned from ‘all football activity’ for 12 months by the FAI
Aidan Fitzmaurice

Aidan Fitzmaurice

The union representing two foreign League of Ireland players, banned over a match fixing scandal, has vowed to launch an appeal to save the pair's careers.

Latvian goalkeeper Igors Labuts and Romanian defender Dragos Sfrijan, players for struggling second-tier side Athlone Town, were last night banned from "all football activity" by the FAI for 12 months.

A disciplinary committee found they had breached three of the association's rules, including "Manipulating Matches" and "Betting/Gambling".

The charges arose from a Division One game away to Longford Town in April, played in front of 400 people.

Athlone Town’s Latvian goalkeeper Igors Labuts and Romanian defender Dragos Sfrijan, pictured, were both banned from ‘all football activity’ for 12 months by the FAI
Athlone Town’s Latvian goalkeeper Igors Labuts and Romanian defender Dragos Sfrijan, pictured, were both banned from ‘all football activity’ for 12 months by the FAI

It was a 3-1 loss for Athlone, after which Uefa informed the FAI of suspicious betting patterns and also contacted An Garda Síochána and Interpol.

Despite the 12-month term of the ban, the players' union, the Professional Footballers' Association of Ireland (PFAI) claims that it is "career ending" due to the reputational stigma that comes with such a suspension.

The PFAI said it plans to appeal to the Swiss-based Court of Arbitration for Sport (Cas). "We are extremely confident that Cas will back our case," said a source close to the matter.

The row is far from over as both the club and the PFAI, a Siptu-affiliated union for League of Ireland players, have come out in support of the pair. They also angrily attacked the FAI's disciplinary process.

In a statement last night, Athlone Town - the oldest senior club in the Republic - said they rejected the "outrageous findings" of the FAI's disciplinary committee and described the disciplinary process as "perverse ... utterly flawed".

The statement added: "The evidence presented against the players was exceptionally flimsy, and based on opinion only."

The PFAI also criticised the FAI, making for an uncomfortable working atmosphere at the association's headquarters in Abbotstown - where the two bodies work out of the same building in Dublin 15.

"It was with great disappointment and shock that such a result has occurred from what was a most serious charge with such flimsy evidence," the PFAI said in a statement.

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

The sorry saga kicked off in May, when the FAI confirmed that European football's governing body Uefa had contacted it, "highlighting irregular betting patterns" around Athlone's Division One game.

The issue was a reportedly large upsurge in live betting, online wagers being placed in the final minutes of the game on Athlone losing by two goals. The much-travelled goalkeeper Labuts (27) conceded an injury time goal to lose 3-1 to Longford.

The players provided the FAI probe with access to their phone and banking records.

The FAI panel made its determination based partly on recommendations from a three-man panel of former footballers (Don O'Riordan, Damien Richardson and Tony McDonnell), who viewed video evidence of the controversial match.

An FAI statement said: "The Football Association of Ireland can confirm that an Independent Disciplinary Committee has found two Athlone Town AFC players to be in breach of FAI rules. The Independent Disciplinary Committee met on Monday, September 4 and ruled that Athlone Town AFC players Igors Labuts and Dragos Sfrijan were in breach of three FAI rules: Following the Committee's findings both players have been banned from all football-related activities for 12 months."

Irish Independent

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