Overseas syndicate attempted to fix games

Airtricity League director Fran Gavin has revealed that a sophisticated overseas betting syndicate initiated the incident which led to Colm James last week receiving an 18-month ban from football.

Overseas syndicate attempted to fix games

The Longford Town midfielder incurred the suspension, unprecedented in length, for breaching FAI rules in relation to “bringing the game into disrepute”, “corruption” and “betting/gambling”. The player has chosen not to appeal the ban.

While their investigation didn’t uncover evidence of any match being actually fixed, the FAI are certain moves were afoot to influence the outcome of a fixture.

“It was the most detailed and the longest investigation that we’ve had into any disciplinary issue in the league,” explained Gavin.

“We interviewed over 50 people during several weeks and we strongly believe that there was a group involved in approaching the player from outside our jurisdiction.

“We have no evidence that any matches were fixed but we think there was an attempt to set up a network to try and get games fixed. So, from our point of view, it was definitely an attack on the integrity of the league.”

By issuing a ban to James that will likely end the 29-year-old’s involvement in League of Ireland, Gavin hopes the message is clear to others considering straying into the arena.

Still, with wages in the Airtricity League vastly reduced in recent years, he recognises the opportunity for players to land a quick windfall exists.

“We’ve addressed the situation in our rules,” he said. “We’ve made it clear that if someone is approached at any stage, they’re obliged to report it so it’s addressed. There are serious consequences for anybody involved in it.

“We’re in very tight times at the moment so when people dangle something like this in front of a player or an official, they think about things like that.

“But there’s a time when you make a decision — yes or no. It’s important that we make sure that everybody knows that if you make the wrong decision then we’re going to come after you with everything.”

The league chief acknowledged too that, as one of the few national associations to operate a summer league, Ireland is even more prone to match-fixing.

Europol’s results published in February from a protracted investigation underlined the widespread incidence of match-fixing across world football. Italian football has been plagued for years by the problem, while Greece, Turkey, Brazil and Finland were blighted as well.

Gavin represented the FAI at an Interpol conference in Italy earlier this year dedicated to the rise of match-fixing. What he heard from the authorities not only shocked him but indicated how easily the malaise can set in.

Concerted measures by organised syndicates to engage in bribery, blackmail and physical threats of players were all highlighted.

“Some of the instances that they reported on in Rome from around Europe would really make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up,” he said.

“It’s the way these people do it; the way they influence — whether it’s players or match officials.

“They’re into making money and they don’t care how they do it.”

One factor in the FAI’s favour, Gavin notes, is the low-scale nature of its league. Familiarity can, in the case of this threat at least, breed transparency.

He said: “We’ve seen what can happen in other leagues around the world when you get a situation with match fixing. Everybody needs to be very vigilant — be that club officials, match officials or other players — regarding anything similar to this case happening in the future.

“The good thing about the League of Ireland is that it’s a very close-knit family. Very little happens around the league that people don’t hear on the grapevine somewhere.

“The people in the league actually care about it. We feel that this investigation has nipped it in the bud before it went anywhere.”

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