The Board of Management of Athlone Town AFC would like to express its disappointment and anger over the manner in which the club has been treated since allegations concerning match fixing first emerged.
Indeed the claims are on such a scale that they have brought an unprecedented and highly negative level of international and national media attention to the club.
The club, which denies any wrongdoing, has at all times indicated its willingness to cooperate fully with the process initiated by UEFA and investigated by the FAI.
The club has done so honestly, and in an open and transparent fashion.
As part of the investigatory process the club has adhered to confidentiality agreements which each and every member of the club was obliged to commit to under the threat of charge for non-cooperation.
However in the club’s opinion the process has descended into a witch hunt rather than a probe to establish the truth.
The club firmly believes that the investigation/disciplinary process is deeply flawed.
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.
The club has repeatedly stated its firm view that the investigation should have been a matter for An Garda Síochána or another police authority.
This is because 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.
Match manipulation/matches being unduly influenced.
The club has grave concerns about the FAI’s decision to charge two players under Rule 99, namely bringing the game into disrepute, Rule 105 manipulating match results, and Rule 106 betting/gambling.
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 Football Association of Ireland 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 lobbing 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.
Accordingly, we believe that in the interests of natural justice, fairness and transparency that the individual concerned should have excused himself from involvement in the process.
The perception of bias alone clouds any opinion which he has tendered in respect of the issues under scrutiny.
Coupling of unrelated charges to UEFA betting fraud detection system report (1st May, 2017).
The investigation was initiated on the basis of an unauthored report from UEFA indicating as follows;
“There is clear and overwhelming betting evidence that the course or result of this match (Longford Town FC v. Athlone Town AFC 29th April 2017) was unduly influenced with a view to gaining corrupt betting profits.
The betting evidence ultimately indicates that bettors had prior knowledge of Athlone Town AFC suffering a minimum 2 goal defeat, in a match which contained at least 2 first half goals, and at least 4 goals in total”, in effect allegations of match fixing and attempts to manipulate the outcome of that particular game.
It was always been the club’s understanding the investigation concerned alleged match fixing and attempts to manipulate the outcome of certain first team games.
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 providence of such information being unknown.
The two individuals are being subjected to charges alleging they placing several bets on teams competing in League of Ireland competitions amounting to a total amount of approximately €34.06.
None of those bets were placed on the outcome of the Longford Town game which has been the subject of so much speculation.
We have grave concerns about how charges independent of match fixing allegations have been coupled with, and announced in the same press release as, the decision to charge players in connection with match fixing claims.
We are of the opinion that not even our harshest critics would accept that several bets with Irish bookies totalling about €34.06 have anything to do with an alleged mysterious Chinese football agent attempting to manipulate games in several different jurisdictions to make a six figure killing on the Asian markets.
(It should be noted that to date no evidence has been presented to substantiate the match fixing claims or found the evidence upon which the charges have been based.)
The club has conducted its own independent investigations and same has revealed that no red flags were put up by Irish bookmakers in relation to the outcome of the game at the centre of the investigation or any other of our games. So why throw these charges in as part of the match fixing charges?
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 leagues clubs.
This we assume is being done to prevent the practice of players, coaches and officials betting on games involving their own club and indeed all clubs associated with the league competitions.
Our concerns about getting a fair hearing will heightened in the extreme if it is a case that the exchange between the Irish bookmakers and the investigator has been carried out in relation to Athlone Town AFC members only.
If it was only applied in respect of our club then we fear that a trawl has been undertaken to ensure the process produces a scapegoat.
Such a step we believe will wrongly destroy the reputations of people who are in no way linked to the match fixing allegations.
It should further be noted that the integrity workshop which was delivered on the 29th March, 2017 clearly indicates that there is a duty on the Football Association of Ireland to investigate all aspects of the games under dispute.
However there does not appear to be any evidence presented to support the charges which indicates that the investigators interviewed all the participants in the Longford game including match officials, club officials and all parties associated with that game.
Media coverage and public pronouncements.
Media coverage of the affair has also lead the club to believe it has not been subjected to an investigation where either it or any individual associated with Athlone Town AFC have been assumed innocent until proven otherwise.
The club feels that everyone at Athlone AFC has collectively been found guilty in the minds of the public of match fixing and it was only a matter of formality before investigators published what they believed to be strong evidence displaying wrongdoing.
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.
Such a clarification was totally ignored by the FAI in its press release last weekend.
Indeed we have asked the FAI to confirm that the investigation part of the process is at an end.
However this is something which they have yet to do.
This is particularly disappointing as it adds to the deep reputational damage the club continues to suffer as a result of the allegations.
Already the club has lost a major sponsor, and regrettably the club’s future is far from assured.
We have also been troubled how certain unsubstantiated material has become deemed factual in media reports.
Pretty much every report says that hundreds of thousands of Euro were staked on the Longford Town game.
When we asked the FAI to confirm details of the amount of money allegedly placed on the Asian betting markets we were informed that they did not know where the reported figure cited in media reports had come from.
At no stage has the Fai sought to clarify this point with any media outfit.
This implies to us that at no time has there been any evidence of large sums of money been wagered on the outcome of games in which Athlone Town AFC were involved.
At the outset, the club called for the involvement of An Garda Síochána and or Eurpol/Interpol.
If UEFA believed that larges sum of money had been wagered on the outcome of the games and a belief that players had been involved in manipulation of the results of the game, one would have expected that the appropriate investigative experts from UEFA would have conducted the investigation rather than leaving same to an inexperienced investigation department of the association.
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 indeed 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.
However the club has little or no faith that a fair outcome based on hard facts will be arrived at in circumstances where we feel basic fair procedures and natural justice have been completely absent from the process.
Indeed we believe there have been breaches of the confidential agreements the club signed up to at the start of the investigation.
Clearly confidential matters have found there way into the media and the club fears that a premeditated outcome of wrongdoing has already been arrived at.
The entire process appears to have been one aimed at manufacturing and creating evidence by way of expert opinions should no real hard evidence exist.
It appears to us that somebody somewhere is looking to find some sort of wrong doing at any level simply to justify the bringing of a widely publicized investigation.
Rights including the right of an individual to their good name and their rights to earn a livelihood have been completely ignored from the outset.
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.