After the Professional Footballers’ Association of Ireland (PFAI) last weekend slammed the FAI’s decision to bring charges against four members of Athlone Town, yesterday it was the club’s turn to outline why they believe a probe around alleged match-fixing has developed into a “witch-hunt”.
The First Division club, which denies any wrongdoing surrounding the claims which first became official in May when the FAI instigated an investigation on foot of information from Uefa, insist they have suffered reputational damage from the episode, including the withdrawal of their main sponsor.
In a lengthy statement, running to almost 2,000 words, the club confirm that only two of their players were charged with matters relating to match-fixing arising from the game against Longford Town on 29 April.
The proceedings against other two members, one a non-playing official, are unconnected to that particular match which triggered the probe. Indeed, Athlone state one member is being charged for wagering a total of €34.06 across several bets.
As for the most serious case of the two players alleged to have manipulated matches, Athlone reiterate the issue should have been dealt with by the gardaí or another police authority rather than the FAI.
Consequently, they dismiss the association’s probe as flawed as it relied solely on the opinion of three experts from the football community requested to study video footage of the games in questions.
“In our opinion the investigators have acted with perceived bias, and have ignored basic human rights, civil liberties, and natural justice to which each and every person is entitled,” read a statement from Athlone Town.
“We believe the FAI lacks the investigative abilities or resources to enable it to find evidence (if any existed), to support the most serious of allegations being made against the club.
“The club welcomes recent statements on the matter from the PFAI and shares the PFAI’s reservations about the basis on which these charges have been brought.
“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.
“The fact of the investigator appointing ‘independent experts’ to substantiate the claims made in the Uefa Report, indicates that no substantive evidence of any description exists and the full cooperation provided by the club and its members has yielded it no evidence upon which the charges are based.
“The club also has strong concerns about the evidence tendered by three experts cited by the FAI in its decision to charge the players.
“Looking at the reports tendered, the three experts themselves disagree and in particular one stating; ‘there is not enough conclusive evidence to prove in a Court of law that players conspired to affect the outcome of the game and therefore breach the Rules’.
“We also do not accept that their evidence can be considered as being independent. 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.
“We can confirm that strong lobbying took place by officials of the FAI to the executive of the club requesting that we consider the appointment of one of the three experts to the vacant managerial position on two occasions.
“The club did speak to the individual concerned but did not offer him the post.”
All eyes now turn to the Independent disciplinary hearing on August 3 called by the FAI. Already, the PFAI have vowed to appeal any adverse finding to the highest authority, including the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
Still, based upon the soundings so far, the likelihood of sufficient evidence or proof being cited to prove the guilt of defendants involved in the game against Longford Town seems highly remote.
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