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'The FAI took three years from me. I will never forgive them' - Ex-Athlone keeper cleared of match-fixing at CAS hearing

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Former Athlone Town goalkeeper Igor Labuts. Photo: Sportsfile

Former Athlone Town goalkeeper Igor Labuts. Photo: Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

Former Athlone Town goalkeeper Igor Labuts. Photo: Sportsfile

Former Athlone Town goalkeeper Igor Labuts says he will never forgive the FAI having been found not guilty of match fixing after appealing his case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Labuts says his name was 'dragged through the mud' by the FAI and blames the Irish governing body for taking three years out of his career.

The Latvian received a 12 month ban from the FAI in September 2017 after suspicious betting patterns surrounding a 3-1 loss to Longford Town in April of that year were reported to UEFA and prompted an FAI led investigation.

The goalkeeper and his Romanian teammate Dragos Sfrijan were found to be in breach of FAI rules under the heading of manipulating matches, betting/gambling and bringing the game into disrepute.

Athlone stood by the players, and Labuts continued to fight to prove his innocence and signalled an intention to go the CAS route in late 2018 when an FAI appointed Independent Disciplinary Committee rejected his initial appeal.

The CAS panel did back up the opinion that the result of the match was manipulated, but they do not support the FAI's contention that Labuts was involved.

Labuts was supported by the Professional Footballers Association of Ireland (PFAI) in his attempts to clear his name after the ban expired, with the process involving arbitration before going to the Swiss based adjudicators who were in the news earlier this week when they cleared Manchester City of wrongdoing.

In a statement released through the PFAI, Labuts described the outcome as 'vindication' but said the personal cost was substantial.

"Since the conviction and subsequent ban, I have been unable to obtain a professional contract," he said. "A footballer's career is short and the FAI took away three years from me. I will never forgive them for that.

"It is hard to explain how personally devastating the last three years have been for me and my family.

"I understand completely that they had to investigate the match and I cooperated in full. It was hugely disappointing to me that I was implicated without any evidence of wrongdoing. I was guilty only of making a mistake which some of the best goalkeepers in the world have made, or worse in some cases.

"To be crystal clear, I did not manipulate, have not manipulated and never would be involved in manipulating a football match. Integrity in football is the most important element of the game"

The CAS hearing pitted Labuts, the PFAI and their legal team against the FAI and their representatives.

A hearing was held in October 2019 with the Labuts side calling on Richie Sadlier, Pat Dolan and ex-League of Ireland goalkeeper Dan Connor as expert witnesses to discuss their input on goals conceded in the match.

The FAI side called on pundits Damien Richardson and ex-UCD stalwart Tony McDonnell to offer their view on footage.

A lengthy CAS verdict discusses the various impressions of culpability for goals conceded in a match where the 'highly suspicious' patterns stemmed from bets on the numbers of goals scored and for Athlone to lose by at least two clear goals.

The CAS panel backs up the UEFA Betting Fraud Detection System (BFDS) conclusion that the 'result of the match was manipulated', with the ruling mentioning the emergence of 'three betting patterns as indicated in very clear terms by the BFDS report.'

It is noted that the Labuts appeal never sought to challenge the broader FAI view of the game, but merely argued that he had no involvement in anything covered by the allegations.

The ultimate CAS conclusion is that Labuts made innocent mistakes in the course of the game.

He is now playing futsal back in his native land.

Online Editors