Judge Gavel Hammer. Photo Courtesy

13 Barbarians players hit with 85-week bans and fines for COVID-19 breaches


13 Barbarians RFC have been in total banned for 85 weeks, with 44 weeks suspended subject to conditions being met and 41 weeks of bans to be taken concurrently.

The players have been fined a total of 18.5 weeks’ salary and ordered to undertake a total of 630 hours of community service.

This is after Alex Lewington, Fergus McFadden, Juan Pablo Socino, Chris Robshaw, Richard Wigglesworth, Jackson Wray, Calum Clark, Sean Maitland, Tim Swinson, Tom de Glanville, Joel Kpoku, Manu Vunipola and Simon Kerrod accepted the charges and the independent panel determined a range of sanctions according to the severity of the breaches.

The independent disciplinary panel chaired by Philip Evans QC had a hearing of 13 players within the Barbarian FC camp charged by the RFU following breaches of the Covid Code of Conduct under Rule 5.12: conduct prejudicial to the interests of the union or game.

The breaches which included misleading the investigation led to the cancellation of the England v Barbarians fixture scheduled for Sunday 25 October due to concerns over the health risk to other Barbarian players and management as well as the potential risk to other teams and the integrity of the Autumn Nations tournament.

The sanctions are as follows:

Group One  (Alex Lewington, Fergus McFadden, Juan Pablo Socino, Chris Robshaw, Richard Wigglesworth and Jackson Wray)

Players who went out both on 20 and 21 October and provided a false account.

Sanction

  • A 5-week suspension for each of the two central offences that took place on the Tuesday and Wednesday. These are to run concurrently and are reduced from 10 weeks for each offence as a result of their timely acceptance of culpability and the players other mitigation. Three weeks of the suspension will be suspended subject to two conditions;

1.        There is no further off-field offending by the players for the period of one year from the date of this judgment.

2.       Lewington, Robshaw, Wray and Wigglesworth are to conduct 50 hours of unpaid rugby community work to be completed before the 19 October 2021. Socino and McFadden to conduct 60 hours of unpaid rugby community work.

  • A total fine of 2 weeks’ wages reduced from 4 weeks as a result of mitigation.

As McFadden is no longer a professional rugby player and in a period of transition into a new career and in the circumstances the panel will not impose a financial penalty on him.

Group Two (Calum Clark, Sean Maitland and Tim Swinson)
 
The older and more experienced players who went out only on Wednesday evening and then gave a false account.

Sanction

  •  A four-week suspension, reduced from eight weeks as a result of their timely acceptance of culpability and their other mitigation. Three weeks of that sanction will be suspended subject to two conditions;

1.        There is no further off-field offending by them for the period of one year from the date of this Judgment.

2.       Sean Maitland and Tim Swinson are to conduct 50 hours of unpaid rugby community work. In the case of Calum Clark it will be 60 hours.

  • A fine of 1.5 week’s wages, reduced from 3 weeks as a result of their mitigation.

Group Three (Joel Kpoku, Manu Vunipola & Tom de Glanville)
Younger players who can be distinguished in terms of the seriousness of their offending because of their age and their position within the group.

Sanction

  •  A 3-week suspension, reduced from 6 weeks as a result of their timely acceptance of culpability and other mitigation. The panel agreed to suspend all 3 weeks of that sanction subject to two conditions;

1.        There is no further off-field offending by them for the period of one year from the date of this judgment.

2.       Kpoku, Vunipola and de Glanville are to conduct 50 hours of unpaid rugby community work.

  •  A fine of 1 week’s wages reduced from 2 weeks as a result of mitigation.

Group 4 (Simon Kerrod)
Simon Kerrod went out but only on the Tuesday evening; he did not provide a false account. The panel accept that he did not necessarily leave the hotel with the intention of going to the pub but when invited he went without question and when he did so he knew that he was outside of the hotel in breach of the Code of Conduct. The panel concluded leaving the hotel through the fire exit was a deliberate breach of the Code of Conduct.

Although his culpability was less he has to share responsibility for the collective harm that the group caused by their actions.

Sanction

  •  A 2 week suspension reduced from 4 weeks due to timely acceptance of culpability and other mitigation.
  • A fine of 1 week’s wages reduced from 2 weeks as a result of his mitigation.

The sanctions reflect the seriousness of the charges which include behaving in a way that ignored what the public at large and the Rugby community were complying with and deliberately compromising an investigation being carried out by the RFU as swiftly as the circumstances demanded.

In advance of joining the Barbarian FC team camp players read and signed a Code of Conduct that stipulated they should avoid any public places; bars and public houses were specifically prohibited, and players were told not to leave the hotel unless authorised by the medical lead and Covid manager*.

The players were provided with a variety of facilities in their hotel including a dining room and social area with pool, table tennis and other games. They could drink alcohol within the Barbarian camp environment at the hotel.  Players were also given permission to go into Hyde Park in groups of no more than three to get fresh air, they were required to provide WhatsApp notifications on departure and return. Players were repeatedly reminded of their obligations under the code of conduct by both Barbarian management and the Covid Manager.

On the afternoon of 20 October Robshaw, Wray and Wigglesworth left the hotel to go for takeaway drinks from the Footman pub in Mayfair and drank them outside. Later they moved into the pub where they were joined by Lewington, Socino, McFadden and Kerrod, contrary to Tier 2 regulations then in place in London.

The panel was told; “We knew this was not technically permitted Code of Conduct of government Tier , so to avoid any confrontation we left the hotel via a fire exit.”

CCTV footage showed the group returning through a fire exit. The seven players had not sought or been given permission to leave the hotel.  The trip was undiscovered until Friday 23 October 2020.

On 21 October 2020 there were further breaches of the Code of Conduct. Wray had approached the Barbarian management to ask if the group could visit Sergio’s restaurant.  The request was denied as indoor restaurants were not permitted under the Code of Conduct of government Tier 2 protocols.  Later that day, 12 players left the team hotel and went to Hush bar in Mayfair, The Running  Horse pub and Sergio’s restaurant.

When asked where they had been the players said they left the hotel to eat out at McDonald’s and sat in Berkeley Square drinking takeaways.

The Panel concluded they could not say from the evidence which individual suggested the use of the story but were satisfied, having heard their evidence that it was not Vunipola, Kpoku or De Glanville.

During the investigation the 12 players provided a statement which read “We would like unequivocally to apologise to the Barbarians FC and the Rugby Football Union for our misguided and foolish actions on Wednesday evening. We bitterly regret our stupidity. We would like unequivocally to apologise to the RFU legal officer and lawyer for offering misleading statements during our interviews on Thursday; our basic instinct, as rugby players, is to stick together and protect each other, but, in this instance, we now realise we should have told the entire truth. As a group, together, we would now like to set down the precise sequence of events.”

The statement set out the correct version of events in relation to Wednesday 21 October 2020. It did not mention the outing which had taken place on Tuesday evening.

During the investigation it was discovered that some players left the hotel on the evening of 20 October. While additional players had been sourced to replace the squad who had isolated following breaking protocols on Wednesday 21, the expert medical advice was that it was not possible to ensure that all players in the squad were COVID-19 free as a result of the previous breaches and therefore none of the players could be considered for the match that Sunday. Having considered all offences involving the breach of Covid protocols, the visits to pubs, a bar and a restaurant were viewed by the panel as being the more serious offences.

The panel therefore decided a clear demarcation in the seriousness of offending between those who went out on both nights and gave a false account, those who went out only on Wednesday night and gave a false account and Kerrod who was the only player who only went out on Tuesday night and did not provide a false account.

Players faced three charges for breaching Rule 5.12 with conduct prejudicial to the interests of the union or game.

  1. For events on 20 October and attending a public house with at least six other players and thereby breached (i) agreed Covid protocols, which were in place to maintain a bio-secure-bubble at the Barbarians training camp, and/or (ii) the ‘Rule of Six’ established by the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (No.2) (England) (Amendment)Regulations 2020.
  2. For events on the evening the 21 October 2020 relating to visits to one or more separate bars and a restaurant. Each of the players who gathered on those evenings participated in a gathering of more than six persons; these were not reasonably necessary for work purposes; and not necessary for an elite sportsperson for a competition or training. They attracted widespread adverse publicity; potentially put other members of the squad at risk of COVID-19; and /or ultimately led to the cancellation of the England v Barbarians match.
  3.  (All players except for Kerrod charged).  Related to providing a false account to the RFU about what they had done on the evening of the 21 October when the matters were being investigated during Thursday the 22 October 2020.All players accepted all charges brought against them.
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