Monday 18 December 2017

FAI refusing to name investors amid Athlone betting probe

The FAI’s Fran Gavin met investors. Photo: David Maher/Sportsfile
The FAI’s Fran Gavin met investors. Photo: David Maher/Sportsfile

The FAI is refusing to reveal the names of the Athlone Town investors who met with its head of competitions earlier this year - despite a furore surrounding a betting probe at the club.

A garda investigation has begun into match fixing at the club, at present focusing on irregular betting patterns during last week's League of Ireland match against Longford Town.

In an interview published on March 15, head of competitions at the FAI, Fran Gavin, admitted he had some reservations about the unnamed investors at the club, after meeting them earlier in the year.

Mr Gavin described the investors as ambitious and said the league had never experienced this type of investment.


He added, "you wonder about their motivation" and said it was something that they would be keeping a close eye on.

In the interview, Mr Gavin was said to have given assurances of their credentials through the league's vetting procedures.

However, an FAI statement on Wednesday said Mr Gavin held reservations over the investors prior to the season beginning on February 24 - three weeks before the interview.

"The FAI has been monitoring the club since it received information from Uefa following an inquiry by FAI competitions director, Fran Gavin, prior to the start of the 2017 season," the statement read.

Last night the FAI refused to give details over who Mr Gavin met in relation to Athlone Town.

Attempts were also made by the Herald to speak to Mr Gavin directly, but he could not be reached for comment.

However, the FAI said Uefa had confirmed the "biggest movements" in betting on the game took place in the Asian markets.

"The FAI has written individually to players, coaches and officials at the club outlining arrangements for interview on Monday, May 8 and Tuesday, May 9," it said.

In his role as FAI integrity officer, Mr Gavin delivered a workshop to Athlone Town's players and staff on the prevention of match fixing and betting on March 29.

The Professional Footballers Association of Ireland (PFAI) also provides guidelines on betting on its official website.

"Players must not bet, either individually, through a third party or as part of a group on any League, Cup or League Cup competition in any division of their competition," the guidelines state. "This applies to European competition as well, if players' clubs are involved.

"You are not permitted to instruct someone to bet on your behalf or as part of a group."

Former Athlone Town manager, Mick Cooke, last night insisted the club was "very well run" while he was involved.

Mr Cooke, who is currently in charge of Bray Wanderers, said: "It's incredibly disturbing for the league and it's the type of publicity that we could do without.

"These types of allegations are very hard to prove and it's going to be a hard task for Fran Gavin," he added.

Mr Cooke said he was fearful of what it could mean for the integrity of the league.

"I'm sure the league and the authorities will look at Athlone's previous results for the season. You don't want to tar everyone with the same brush because of one incident."

Club historians with Athlone Town, Ireland's oldest senior football club, have been kept busy updating their records this year with no fewer than four different names officially listed as team manager in the team's 10 league games to date.

Local media have been trying, without success, to nail down the identity of the person who headed up a takeover of the club, founded in 1887, earlier this year.

It has been reported locally that the Portugal-based Chinese businessman Eric Mao, also known as Eric Xiaodong, led the takeover of Athlone before the start of the 2017 season which saw 'the Town', a club which finished bottom of the second tier in the League of Ireland last season, given an injection of cash and talent.

Mr Mao has links to a second-tier club in Lisbon, Atletico Clube de Portugal, who were the subject of match-fixing investigations in Portugal in 2014.

Current Athlone goalkeeper, Igors Labuts, also played for that club.

In March, Athlone announced Marc Fourmeaux - a French-born football agent who was previously involved with a club in Lithuania - as director of first team operations.

The side had a continental flair with Portuguese coaches Ricardo Monsanto, Ricardo Cravo and Jose Ferreira on the staff, while the squad had players from Latvia, Portugal, Romania and France as well as a 36-year-old Uruguayan.

Club stalwart Colin Fortune, Athlone's manager last season, was named as the manager before the 2017 season started but last week the club confirmed that he had left the club.

In December 2015, the FAI agreed a contract with Trackchamp as their "video and data partner".

Trackchamp is a joint venture between online gambling company Bwin and ChyronHego, a real-time tracking technology company.

The arrangement, a four-year contract, ultimately facilitates the live streaming of League of Ireland games outside of Ireland for gambling purposes.

In 2013, a Singaporian national suggested during secret recordings that he had organised football fixtures in a number of countries, name-checking Ireland.

However, this claim was never proven.

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