Second-tier side Villa Dálmine have terminated the contracts of 16 players from its professional squad after a controversial defeat marred by claims of match-fixing.
The allegations, which have not been proven, concern Villa Dálmine’s 3-1 loss to Barracas Central, the team of Argentine Football Association (AFA) President Claudio Tapia, in a key clash deciding promotion to the top flight.
The match, which took place November 15, in the Primera Nacional (second division) secured Barracas Central a place in the Ascenso tournament, in which they eventually lost to Tigre (1-0).
Villa Dálmine released a list of 16 players in a communiqué stating that "by decision of the Board of Directors (...) they will not continue at the club."
Although most of the players’ contracts were due to expire at the end of the year, 12 of the 16 players named were either starters or on the substitutes' bench during the match now under suspicion.
The first match-fixing claims emerged from the ‘Wed de Viola’ fan website, which observed the “lackadaisical play” and “suspicious performances” of the side based in Campana, Buenos Aires Province.
Coach Marcelo Francini suspended training last week because he noticed "a malaise within the group."
In a statement, the club’s management, which has been at the helm since 2001, defended its track record and, reacting to reports of possible wrongdoing, said it was "oblivious" to all speculation and stressed that it transmits to its players "the principles of honesty and transparency and good conduct."
Some of the players, meanwhile, recorded a message to reject the accusations. "There are many people saying outrageous things about us and as a result there are several teammates who have received death threats," said Gastón Díaz, one of those who will not continue at the club, in a video message, lamenting the "tarnishing [of] our names as players and the name of the club."
Ex-Boca Juniors and Villa Dálmine player José Basualdo, the leader of a rival group seeking to run the club, said he had heard the allegations.
"I heard about everything. There was a vote among the players,” he said. “Everything I've heard is very serious.”
Amid the controversy, some clubs are asking why Barracas Central are still in the race for promotion. The side is due to play the first leg of the semi-final of the promotion tournament on Monday against Almirante Brown. The other semi-final is between Ferrocarril Oeste and Quilmes.
"Let's use this logic. If it is proven that Villa Dálmine's players went backwards, Barracas [the favoured club] must be suspected. So how is this club still competing for promotion to [the] Primera [Division]?" tweeted football commentator Sergio Rek.
AFA President Claudio 'Chiqui' Tapia was president of Barracas for 17 years. The position is currently held by his son Matias, 25. Another of Tapia’s sons, Iván, is the captain of Barraccas Central's first-team squad. The club’s stadium is named after the AFA official.