MELBOURNE, April 28 (Reuters) - Australia’s National Rugby League has fined four players for breaching social distancing rules as the suspended competition battles to build trust ahead of a planned restart in late-May.
Australia internationals Latrell Mitchell and Josh Addo-Carr were fined A$50,000 ($32,000), with 60% suspended, for going camping at Mitchell’s farm in New South Wales state in defiance of public health orders.
Newcastle Knights player Tyronne Roberts-Davis, who was also on the camping trip, was fined A$10,000, with 60% suspended, the NRL said in a statement on Tuesday.
Penrith Panthers halfback Nathan Cleary was also fined A$10,000, with 60% suspended, after he was seen in a photograph posted on social media with a group of women.
All four players were handed suspended one-match bans as part of “breach notices” issued by the league. They will have five days to respond.
“The notices allege that Mitchell, Addo-Carr, Roberts-Davis and Cleary have each shown a blatant disregard for public health orders, guidelines and advice and in doing so have brought significant reputational damage to the NRL,” the league said in a statement on Tuesday.
The players’ lockdown breaches have embarrassed the NRL which has been at pains to assure authorities that it can safely restart the competition from May 28 despite concerns about the coronavirus.
The season was suspended in March after two rounds after travel restrictions aimed at curbing the virus made it untenable.
“The players have to understand that they are putting the game and the community at risk by their actions,” Australian Rugby League Commission chairman Peter V’landys added in the statement.
“It’s certainly hard to accept such behaviour when the game is doing everything it can to persuade the community that its players are responsible and behave appropriately.”
Mitchell and Addo-Carr apologised on Monday, saying the trip was organised for members of Addo-Carr’s family who had been having “a tough time”.
Police have already issued A$1,000 fines to Mitchell, Addo-Carr and Roberts-Davis for breaching government orders on social distancing but said on Tuesday they were investigating other possible offences, including firearms offences.
Addo-Carr was seen using a gun in a video of the camping trip posted by the players on social media.
Australia, which has recorded more than 6,700 COVID-19 cases and 84 deaths, has ordered people to stay home with a few exceptions including trips to work or school, buying essential supplies and exercise.
$1 = 1.5523 Australian dollars Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore