Tuesday 12 December 2017

Athlone lash out at FAI over betting probe

Athlone Town Stadium Photo: Oliver McVeigh
Athlone Town Stadium Photo: Oliver McVeigh
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

Athlone Town have claimed that the FAI's investigation into betting irregularities around games involving the club have ignored "basic human rights" and have threatened to pursue that angle through the courts if they are unhappy with the outcome.

The embattled First Division club released a lengthy and strongly-worded statement yesterday in the aftermath of the news earlier in the week that the FAI have brought charges against four people involved with the Midlanders.

That number is made up of one club official, one amateur player and two professional members of the squad.

An FAI statement said that the individuals would appear before an Independent Disciplinary Committee on August 3 to answer charges that they breached FAI rules under the headings of 'bringing the game into disrepute', 'manipulating matches' and 'betting/gambling'.

Asian markets

The Abbotstown probe started after the FAI received a report from UEFA highlighting irregular betting patterns - related to the Asian betting market - around Athlone's First Division game with Longford Town on April 29.

Athlone are dissatisfied with how the investigation has been carried out, arguing that the betting offences raised by the FAI are minor ones involving small sums of money - and in one case relate to games not involving Athlone.

"It has always been the club's understanding the investigation concerned alleged match-fixing and attempts to manipulate the outcome of certain first-team games," read the Athlone statement.

"The club was therefore highly surprised and upset to discover that two other members have been charged with matters totally unconnected to claims that large sums of money had been wagered on international betting markets.

"The two individuals are being subjected to charges alleging they placed several bets on teams competing in League of Ireland competitions amounting to a total amount of approximately €34.06.

"In light of what seems to be a free exchange of information between the FAI and bookmakers, we can only speculate that the FAI is engaged in a thorough investigation of all individuals at all of the league's clubs."

The most serious charge of manipulating matches involved an independent, three-man panel of experts appointed by the FAI studying footage of a game and offering their opinions on the actions of the players with regard to the charges.

One member of the panel reached the conclusion that there wasn't enough evidence to prove in a court of law that the players conspired to affect the outcome of the game.

Athlone have questioned the independence of the trio.

"It also amazes us that the process is deemed to be independent when the FAI are the investigative authority, the prosecutor, and the tribunal determining the issues," continued the statement.

"The club does not wish to impugn the reputation or integrity of any individual but we believe that the members of the panel of experts appointed by the FAI are too close to the entity conducting the investigation."

When contacted, the FAI declined to comment in response to Athlone's claims and refused to confirm the identity of the three men on the panel .

However, the Irish Independent understands that the experts who studied the footage are experienced managers Damien Richardson and Don O'Riordan and former UCD player Tony McDonnell, who is a former chairman of the PFAI.

Athlone are also unhappy with media coverage of the case which attracted national and international attention and feel they have suffered "deep reputational damage" as a consequence.

"Already the club has lost a major sponsor, and regrettably the club's future is far from assured," they said.

"The club feels that everyone at Athlone AFC has collectively been found guilty in the minds of the public of match-fixing.

"The fact Athlone Town AFC itself has been exonerated, has had no charges levied against it and will not face any sanctions such as a points deduction following the investigation, may have been missed by the media.

"At the outset, the club called for the involvement of An Garda Síochána and or Eurpol/Interpol.

Manipulation

"If UEFA believed that large sums of money had been wagered on the outcome of the games and that players had been involved in manipulation of results, one would have expected that the appropriate investigative experts from UEFA would have conducted the investigation.

"We now understand that, while the UEFA report was furnished to the Gardaí, no investigations have been undertaken to date.

"In conclusion, the club is sadly of the opinion that the entire process is completely flawed, does not respect the members' human rights, natural rights, and constitutional rights.

"The club is seeking legal advice and will take all steps necessary upon such recommendations to vindicate the rights of the individuals concerned.

"The club will decide shortly whether to continue to support the engagement in the disciplinary process or seek vindication through another properly independent forum.

"We would also like to point out that all individual rights guaranteed under the Irish Constitution as well as the European Convention of Human Rights trump anything contained in the rules of any national or international sporting organisation or precedents set by the Court of Arbitration of Sport."

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