The FAI have banned two Athlone Town players, Igors Labuts and Dragos Sfrijan, for 12 months for breaching rules relating to manipulating matches and gambling.

The governing body said 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’s game against Longford Town in the SSE Airtricity League First Division on 29 April "was unduly influenced with a view to gaining corrupt betting profits".

The investigation was then widened on 5 May to take a closer look at two other games involving the club.

However, the investigators found that there was insufficient evidence around those games to bring any charges, so the investigation focused solely on the game that took place on 29 April.

The FAI added that they conducted a full investigation which included interviews with relevant personnel, reviewing match footage and obtaining the opinions of football experts - a final report was prepared and charges were issued.

Athlone subsequently said they were extremely unhappy with the manner of the investigation.

However, the Independent Disciplinary Committee met last Monday and ruled that Labuts and Sfrijan were in breach of three FAI rules of bringing football into disrepute, manipulating matches and betting and gambling offences and subsequently banned them for 12 months.

Athlone Town and the Professional Footballers' Association of Ireland have hit out the decision announced today, and said the process was extremely unfair. 

In a statement released this afternoon, the First Division side said a fair process did not take place.

It read: "The Board of Management of Athlone Town AFC rejects the outrageous findings made by the FAI against two of the club's players.

"At this stage the club supports the player's appeal against the findings and any avenues taken by the two, who strongly deny the charges, aimed at overturning these decisions.

"It is our opinion that the evidence presented against the players was exceptionally flimsy, and based on opinion only.

"The club takes exception to the use of the FAI's description of 'clear and overwhelming' evidence of match manipulation being present in the case.

"It also appears extraordinary to use that while the FAI say it has a zero tolerance policy to match fixing that the penalty deemed to be appropriate for match fixing and manipulating the outcome of games is one of 12 months ban.

"To us it seems like saying that somebody is only a little bit pregnant.

"We believe that this decision has now set a very dangerous precedent not only for football but for all sports.

"We will issue further statements on our next step following discussions with the relevant parties."

The PFAI, who represent the players, have also responded angrily at the decision, saying it was reached with "half-baked innuendo".

They added that there was "no evidence exists that these players were guilty of any such offence" and they will take the case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport if neccessary.

A statement read: "[Igor Labuts] and [Dragos Sfrijan] cooperated fully with the investigation and provided all phone records and any bank accounts that they had to the FAI.

"None of these records were used at the hearing and no suggestion has been made that they indicated any untoward behaviour.

"Instead, the FAI arbitrarily convened a three man panel to study the footage in conjunction with evidence of irregular betting patterns. No rule exists for such a panel but it was nonetheless asked to determine if these players performed in an adequate or illogical manner. Of these three, only two reached an opinion that they had while a third, though expressing reservations, said he felt there was not enough evidence.

"At the hearing, one of these experts did not appear and his opinion was withdrawn while another, who had expressed reservations, changed his view.

"A further expert was introduced, a sports consultant from Austria, who had never seen a League of Ireland match before and he refused to say whether he felt the actions of the player in question was deliberate or not.

"The players engaged four experts, including three of Ireland's best known broadcasting pundits and another leading coach, all of whom expressed the opinion that there was not enough evidence to find the players guilty of match manipulation and that the errors in the match were typical of that standard of football.

"The decision of the disciplinary panel makes no reference to the substantial expert evidence which contradicts the finding and ignores the fact that in 93.7% of all cases reported by the BFDS betting monitor where irregular betting patterns exist, no sanctions were administered.

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

"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.

"We will appeal this decision and will take this as far as the Court of Arbitration for Sport if necessary."

Athlone say they support the PFAI's stance on the matter.