FAI bans two players following match-fixing investigation

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Igors Labuts and Dragos Sfrijan have been banned for a year for offences relating to Athlone Town's meeting with Longford Town in April

The Football Association of Ireland (FAI) has suspended two players for a year following a match-fixing investigation relating a second-tier clash in April.

Igors Labuts and Dragos Sfrijan have each been banned for 12 months after the Athlone Town pair were found guilty of breaching three FAI rules.

Both played in the 3-1 league defeat at Longford Town on April 29 - Sfrijan netting for Athlone - but an investigation was subsequently launched, with the FAI releasing details of the duo's punishment on Thursday.

"On May 3, an investigation was launched following a UEFA Betting Fraud Detection System report demonstrated 'clear and overwhelming betting evidence that the course or result of' Athlone Town's game against Longford Town in the SSE Airtricity League First Division on April 29 'was unduly influenced with a view to gaining corrupt betting profits'," a statement read.

"Upon receipt of the UEFA BFDS report, the FAI conducted a full investigation which included conducting interviews with relevant personnel, reviewing match footage and obtaining the opinions of football experts - a final report was prepared and charges were issued.

"The Independent Disciplinary Committee met on Monday, September 4 and ruled that Athlone Town AFC players Igors Labuts and Dragos Sfrijan were in breach of three FAI rules:

- Rule 99: Bringing the Game into Disrepute 
- Rule 105: Manipulating Matches
- Rule 106: Betting / Gambling  

"Following the Committee's findings both players have been banned from all football-related activities for 12 months.

"The FAI has a zero tolerance policy to match-fixing."

The Professional Footballers' Association of Ireland (PFAI), who represented Labuts and Sfrijan, expressed "great disappointment and shock" at the result of the disciplinary hearing.

The PFAI was also critical of the FAI for the manner in which they handled the situation, indicating that they would appeal the decision and consider taking the case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport if they feel it necessary.

"Quite simply, the most serious allegation that can be made against a footballer must be backed up by overwhelming evidence, not half-baked innuendo," a PFAI statement read

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"No player in the history of sport has been found guilty of match fixing on such little evidence. All of the comparative jurisprudence in Europe demonstrates a requirement for substantial proof in the face of such allegations. This case is an outlier.

"There is an obligation on sports authorities to treat players with fairness and not seek to scapegoat them in order to gain cheap wins in what is a serious global problem. Players must be protected against injustice by ensuring that proper procedures, fairness and natural justice applies in all matters of this nature.

"Although both have received a year long ban, the effect of such a finding is of a lifetime ban as the stain of this allegation is career ending. The damage already done to these players is irreversible but they will fight to reclaim what is left of their good names."

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