Australia’s National Rugby League has criticised two players for their “unacceptable” actions after they broke lockdown restrictions to go on a camping trip in New South Wales.
Australia internationals Latrell Mitchell and Josh Addo-Carr camped together at the former’s farm near Taree, located on the mid-north coast in New South Wales, with Addo-Carr posting pictures of the pair’s trip on social media that showed them around a campfire with up to 10 other people.
The pair have defended their actions, with Addo-Carr claiming the trip was for “a cultural gathering”. Both of them are of Aboriginal descent, with Mitchell a full-back at South Sydney Rabbitohs and Addo-Carr a wing at Melbourne Storm.
The NRL did not take the same view as the players though, and issued a strongly-worded statement to condemn their actions at a time when the NRL is looking to build trust with authorities after announcing a plan to return to action next month.
"Our players are role models and we expect them to lead by example during this pandemic," the NRL said in a statement on Monday.
"On face value, the image in today's media is both disappointing and an unacceptable breach of health orders.
"The NRL will be speaking to the players involved to seek further information and we will ensure the players provide any assistance authorities require."
Australia has registered 83 official deaths during the coronavirus pandemic with more than 6,700 confirmed cases, with their lockdown measures and social distancing appearing to have a major impact in reducing the spread of Covid-19. Exceptions to lockdown include essential trips to work and school, exercise and purchasing groceries and health supplies, but otherwise the public have been ordered to stay at home.
The camping trip will now be investigated by NSW Police, but Addo-Carr attempted to explain why they felt it was acceptable to ignore the lockdown restrictions.
"I don't know what to say. I came up here for my pregnant missus, she's about to have a baby, then spent some time with my family," the Storm wing told Sydney’s Daily Telegraph.
"Mate, it was cultural gathering. Learning about our land and our culture, learning how to hunt, live off the land."
The Daily Telegraph reported that both have been fined A$1,000 (£519) for breaking lockdown, and it was added that Addo-Carr is also under investigation for use of a firearm after he posed with and fired a gun in a video posted on his Instagram page.
Both later apologised for their actions.
“Firstly, I’d just like to apologise for my actions this weekend, nothing was intentional or deliberate,” Addo-Carr said on Instagram. “A couple of family members of mine were going through a really tough time at the moment and I got in contact with Latrell to go out to his private property and try connect to our culture again and try put a smile on their faces and have a bit of fun as well.
“I can’t wait to go out there and finally play some footy and like I said before, I’m really sorry from the bottom of my heart.”
Mitchell added: “I just want to apologise for my actions this weekend. I’ve been up here with my family for the last four to five weeks and practising that social distancing stuff.
“Had a little bit of a slip-up but like I said Foxxy (Addo-Carr) reached out, said his cousins are going through a bit of stuff in Sydney and just wanted to get out here to the bush, make sure they’re getting cultured and connected again.
“That’s the whole part of the concept of this weekend was, I wasn’t here to break any rules or hurt anyone.
“We’re not being selfish, I couldn’t turn down the brothers in a time of need. On behalf of me and Foxxy and all my mob we do apologise.”
Individuals who break lockdown in Australia can be fined a maximum penalty of A$11,000 (£5,700) or imprisoned for six months, with a further A$5,500 (£2,850) fine applicable for every day breach of lockdown continues.
NSW Deputy Police Commissioner Dave Hudson confirmed the incident would be investigated.
“What action is taken will fall out of that investigation,” he said on Monday. “I have spoken this morning to the regional commander at northern.
“He will make himself aware of what’s on the back page of the paper and make some inquiries.”
The NRL plans to introduce training guidelines to all clubs in the coming days once measures have been agreed with authorities, and it expressed its embarrassment at now having to explain why two of its players defied the restrictions to camp with others, adding that they will support any action taken against Mitchell and Addo-Carr.
"We are embarking on a significant education program to ensure our players understand what is acceptable behaviour ahead of the resumption of training," the NRL said.
"When training resumes our players and officials must comply with biosecurity protocols that go further than current government restrictions.
"On face value, today's matter is unacceptable and we support the government in any action they believe necessary."
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