Irish football legend Niall Quinn says he feels for any Athlone Town players who are innocent of wrongdoing, as the FAI launches an investigation into irregular betting patterns around the club’s 3-1 defeat to Longford Town in the League of Ireland First Division last Saturday.
It’s understood the probe will focus in particular on heavy betting in Asia on the prospect of a third goal coming late on in the game which meant that, unusually, the price was odds-on when the final goal was actually scored in the 87th minute.
The FAI, who are acting on the basis of a detailed Uefa report, plan to begin interviewing players, coaches, and officials of Athlone Town on Monday.
For its part, the club said it was “absolutely shocked” by the contents of the related documentation forwarded to it by the FAI and Uefa and has promised to cooperate fully with the investigation.
“The club absolutely abhors match-fixing and would never knowingly get involved in such unacceptable activity,” said the club.
Yesterday, officials of the footballers’ union, the PFAI, were travelling to Athlone to speak to their members at the club about the situation.
Speaking in Dublin, former international Quinn said his first thoughts were with any players who would have had no knowledge of or involvement in the matters under investigation.
“You’ve got really genuine lads down there in Athlone training their backsides off, working really hard to get things going,” said the Sky Sports pundit. “Some of them are victims now, without anything even being known about what has happened. I feel for them, having given their all, to be shrouded in this shadow. That said, we’ve got to let this investigation see its way through and we’ll find out a little bit more.”
Quinn made it clear he has absolutely no sympathy for anyone engaged in match-fixing — “that’s different, I’m not going to stand behind anybody if this investigation picks someone out” — but he also believes the general relationship between football and the betting industry has become increasingly problematic.
“If the game is taking so much money from the bookmaking industry they need to have solid foundations in place that it can stand up and be able to deal with the consequences,” he said. “There’s too much controversy and clouds around it. I think football has to look a bit closer at its income streams and how the whole bookmaking industry and football are aligned.
“However, I’m being a hypocrite with that, because [as Sunderland chairman] I brought a betting partner in and, even after they left, we’d have had a betting partner to replace them. We all saw the value of it in football, but now we’re beginning to see that, as players like Joey Barton come out and show their addictions, it’s just an unhealthy relationship now.
“That said, I work for a group who have a betting partner — Sky Bet are with Sky — so I understand the commercial aspects of the whole thing. I was a chairman of a football club that had to drive commercial revenue, so I understand why the betting partners are there.
“When you’re put in a position to drive revenue and there’s an opportunity to attract a sponsor who is looking to enhance his brand, and that brand is perfectly permissible by law, then you’re not doing anything wrong.
“Any manager we see doing a press conference after games, there is always at least one bookmaker on the advertising. The FAI have a betting partner. It’s there. I can’t knock it for the commercial revenue, but some better protections for the stakeholders should be there.”
Quinn, who has previously argued that betting on football should be levied to raise investment in the game at grassroots level, says education is key to getting to the root of problem gambling.
“Having loved a bet all throughout my career — I wasn’t a football betting man, I was a horses man — but knowing how you feel after a bet comes up and all the rest of it, knowing the way footballers have disposable income, it’s an accident waiting to happen.
“I think that, rather than just these guys in pinstripe suits saying to footballers ‘you can’t do this, you can’t do that, but we’re going to take all the money’, they have to do something more than that. Players have to be educated. We need to examine the relationship between how football accepts the industry into its lap, but is quick to execute its own soldiers for partaking.”
Niall Quinn was speaking in Stoneybatter at the launch of this year’s Dublin Bus Community Spirit Awards, which provides funding for volunteer community groups to develop new projects. For further information, see www.dublinbus.ie
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved