In 2017, former Athlone Town goalkeeper, Igor Labuts, received a 12-month suspension after he was found by a FAI Disciplinary Committee to have breached FAI match-fixing rules.
The FAI investigation centred around the SSE Airtricity League First Division match between Longford Town FC and Athlone Town and the errors from Mr Labuts’ which led to Athlone conceding two goals precisely at the time of suspicious betting activity identified by the UEFA Betting Fraud Detection System (BFDS).
Mr Labuts brought an unsuccessful appeal of the FAI Disciplinary Committee decision to the FAI Appeals Committee (which also involved an interim High Court injunction being granted in his favour as considered previously here), and a further unsuccessful appeal to an independent arbitrator appointed under FAI rules. Mr Labuts then exercised his right, under the FAI Rules, to bring a final appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).
The CAS appeals arbitration process provides for a full review of the merits of the case by a CAS panel. In the case of Mr Labuts, the CAS panel noted that the burden to prove the alleged offences lay with the FAI. As the FAI rules were silent on any explicit standard of proof to apply, the CAS panel, relying on CAS jurisprudence concerning match-fixing cases, determined the applicable standard as the comfortable satisfaction standard. Therefore, the FAI had to prove, to the CAS panel’s comfortable satisfaction, that Mr Labuts had violated the FAI Rules.
Was Igor Labuts guilty of manipulation of the result of the Match?
Relying on a report prepared by BFDS, the CAS panel determined that the result of the match had been manipulated. Mr Labuts did not submit any evidence to contradict this. However, the key issue to be determined was whether Mr Labuts himself had been guilty of manipulating the result of the match.
Mr Labuts argued that the FAI’s evidence was insufficient and did not prove that his actions were deliberately inadequate, in respect of the second and third goals scored against him, in order to influence the Match. The second goal was scored from a free kick which went under Mr Labuts’ palms. Mr Labuts put forward expert evidence demonstrating how the second goal was caused by a combination of an opposition player pushing the wall, the ball speed and the wet conditions.
The third goal was scored when an Athlone Town defender missed the ball, allowing the Longford striker to run through and score. Mr Labuts claimed that he had left the penalty area to rush the opposition’s striker and that he believed he had a 50% chance of saving the ball, which was ultimately lobbed over his head into the goal.
The CAS panel found that, while Mr Labuts may have committed some mistakes during the Match, the Athlone Town centre backs were more likely than Mr Labuts to have shown malicious intent and involvement in manipulating the result of the Match. Both centre backs were described by a FAI expert as acting illogically and giving away clumsy free kicks, one of which led to the second goal.
The CAS panel overturned the 12-month suspension imposed on Mr Labuts thus setting aside the decision of the independent arbitrator.
If you or your organisation require any advice on sports arbitrations or any other sports related legal queries, please do not hesitate to contact Craig Sowman, Derek Hegarty, Patrick Murphy or your usual William Fry contact with any questions.
Contributed by Colin Russell and Patrick Murphy