NRL players guilty of breaking social-distancing laws have put the league’s planned return to action at risk, according to the Federal Sport Minister.
- The NRL wants to restart its 2020 season — suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic — on May 28
- However the league has had to deal players flouting social-distancing rules
- The National Cabinet will meet on Friday to discuss its approach to resuming elite and community sport
The league’s bold bid to resume its competition copped a major blow this week when three of its stars were fined for flouting social-distancing rules.
Latrell Mitchell, Josh Addo-Carr ($50,000 each) and Nathan Cleary ($10,000) were also slapped with suspended fines by the NRL for bringing the game into disrepute.
The incidents gave critics ammunition to question the league’s ability to follow strict protocol measures required to relaunch its season.
Federal Youth and Sport Minister Richard Colbeck told the ABC the penalties handed down were “very significant”.
“I think the NRL needed to take very decisive action because clearly they have some submission in front of government with respect to the management of the league restarting again, and players complying with the protocols they put in place will be critical to the success of that,” he said.
“I think it’s important they send a strong message that they’re serious about compliance with protocols and I think the penalties clearly do that.”
Mr Colbeck was asked whether the players’ failure to follow the rules indicated the NRL had a problem with operating under physical-distancing rules.
“It’s a matter that depends on the performance and the activities of the [NRL] players,” he said.
“That’s why it is important that the NRL has taken the action it has to send a strong message. It’s not acceptable.”
NSW police issued both Mitchell and Addo-Carr $1,000 infringement notices for breaching COVID-19 measures last weekend.
A third player, Tyronne-Roberts Davis, was fined for the same incident.
Mitchell and Addo-Carr have also been charged with firearm offences after the latter uploaded videos of him shooting a gun on social media.
“It’s obviously a serious charge. They will be appropriately dealt with by the courts as they should be,” Mr Colbeck said.
“I’ve clearly stated my views that it’s a salutary lesson to everybody involved that … complying with the law appropriately, but also in the circumstances of COVID-19, is going to be really important.
Acting NRL chief executive Andrew Abdo said the league was “working day and night” to get the competition restarted.
“Any setback is a setback for all of us as a game, but I’m not concerned about this particular issue derailing any of those discussions,” Abdo said.
The next step will be for the NRL innovations committee to meet on Wednesday and configure the details around the make-up of a new draw.
The final hurdle will be on Friday, when the National Cabinet meets to outline the return of elite and community sport in the country.
The Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC) is in charge of providing recommendations to the Federal Government regarding health protocols.
Mr Colbeck said the NRL’s issues this week would be a factor.
“All the issues in the public arena will be considered a part of that,” he said.
“The important thing is that people are prepared to comply with the protocols in place and we need a demonstration that will be complied with.
“I think that’s really important and once we get through the process of the AHPPC and National Cabinet, that will set the framework to do just that.”