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Irish football boss would be open to exploring the idea of 'fit and proper' tests for club owners

FAI director of competitions Fran Gavin says they are close to completing their investigation into Athlone Town.

The Athlone players walk out alongside Shelbourne at Tolka Park earlier this season.
The Athlone players walk out alongside Shelbourne at Tolka Park earlier this season.
Image: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

THE FAI INVESTIGATION into match-fixing allegations involving Athlone Town is finally nearing its completion.

Back in May, the association launched a probe after irregular betting patterns were highlighted during an SSE Airtricity League First Division match between Athlone and Longford Town.

The Midlands club has been in disarray this season after overseas investors fronted by French agent Marc Formeaux got involved and recruited several foreign players.

Head coach Colin Fortune departed in April with Ricardo Monsanto taking over, but the Portuguese coach left a month later and Roddy Collins began his second spell in charge of the club in May.

Many Athlone fans have grown frustrated with the situation and attendances have been extremely poor in recent months, while poor performances on the pitch mean they lie second from bottom in the second tier.

Speaking yesterday, FAI director of competitions Fran Gavin revealed that a conclusion is imminent — although he wouldn’t divulge what level of sanctions, if any, would be handed out.

“We are currently coming close to finalising our investigation into Athlone,” said Gavin. “We have one individual to interview, that will happen this week.

“We have some more information to be gathered and sent to us and we are waiting on that. Once that’s all received, we will put it together and be out with it as quickly as possible.”

He added:  “We want to have a strong Athlone Town in the League of Ireland. You’d be aware of the history of Athlone Town and the tradition that’s there. It’s a soccer town.

“They’ve had their difficulties, they’ve been in the public, it’s been well-documented. We want a resolution to that as quickly as possible and we’ll work with the club to get that.

“They are part of the culture of the league. It’s very important that we have a stable club, like all clubs. That’s what we want.”

Fran Gavin The FAI's director of competitions Fran Gavin. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

Unlike in the Premier League, prospective club owners are not put through a ‘fit and proper person’ test in the League of Ireland.

It would certainly go some way to weeding out unsuitable investors, and although Gavin believes it could prove problematic, he would be open to exploring the idea further.

“We would always review it,” he said. “It’s like anything with your rules, at the end of a league or a season you look back and review what went well and what can you improve.

“Can you change a rule here or there? That may be part of a review of the league, to see what we can do in that area. I don’t know how it can be strongly-implemented without being very strongly legally-challenged — that’s the other thing.

“I think that might be an issue around Europe when you make judgments like that on a person’s character. You would need to be very cautious and make sure whatever we bring in is for the benefit of the leagues and the clubs.”

Just last week, the English FA opted to terminate all its sponsorships with betting companies in an attempt to battle irresponsible gambling.

While an FAI spokesperson revealed that it would review its current partnership with Ladbrokes at the end of the 12-month deal, there are no plans to end it prematurely.

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Ben Blake

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