Featherstone Rovers docked points and fined over breach of RFL operational rules: club 'deeply disappointed' at outcome of investigation
Featherstone Rovers say they are "deeply disappointed" after being deducted two Betfred Championship points and fined £10,000 over a breach of coronavirus regulations.
Rovers were found guilty of breaking the RFL’s operational rules by holding an indoor gathering following their Challenge Cup win over Batley Bulldogs on Saturday, March 27, during the national lockdown.
Twelve players who took part - and therefore should have been stood down under the RFL’s Covid protocols - featured in the following weekend’s Championship win over Batley.
Though the RFL say today’s ruling was an “agreed decision” between them and the club, Rovers are far from happy.
Earlier this month, Wakefield Council decided not to suspend Rovers' licence to sell alcohol, which the club said was a "vindication" of their response to the incident.
The points deduction in particular is a blow for Rovers who lost their 100 per cent winning record to title rivals Toulouse Olympique last weekend.
In a strongly-worded statement, the governing body accused Rovers of failing to cooperate with the early stages of their investigation.
“The March 27 gathering took place after Featherstone’s Betfred Challenge Cup tie, also against Batley, when the law prohibited people from different households gathering indoors,” the statement said.
“An RFL investigation began when photographs, which included club chairman Mark Campbell, emerged on social media.
“The club initially claimed that the only player who was present was the one who could be identified from the photographs – Brett Ferres, who was immediately stood down for 10 days and fined £250 for breaching the RFL’s Covid protocols.
“CCTV footage of all the attendees was said to be unavailable.
“With the club failing to fully cooperate with the early stages of the RFL investigation, Rovers were able to field a virtual full-strength team against Batley the following Friday.
“But CCTV footage of the illegal March 27 gathering later obtained by the police showed 23 people present, including 12 players who played in the 28-18 defeat of Batley on April 2.”
The statement added: “Operational rules do not allow for the results of completed fixtures to be altered.
“However, Featherstone have been stripped of the equivalent of the two competition points they gained from this victory.
“The fine reflects the club’s failure to properly comply with the law, operational rules and the RFL investigation.
“The club deliberately withheld information from the investigator, in order to avoid players being stood down.
“The actions of individual club members led to an unnecessarily protracted, expensive and extremely time-consuming process.”
The RFL say it is “abundantly clear” the club should have stood down the players in question once it became aware the illegal gathering had taken place.
Not doing so contributed to the result against Batley and risked the unnecessary spread of the virus within the Featherstone squad, the governing body added.
“In agreeing to also cover the costs of the investigation, the club accepts the seriousness of its failings in this matter and accepts that, as a reputable sporting entity, it should also be setting an example to society more generally,” the statement went on.
Rovers issued their own statement which claimed today's outcome was "particularly disappointing given that the club had satisfied both West Yorkshire Police’s investigation and a local authority hearing, both of whom conceded that the club had not knowingly been uncooperative".
It said: "The club stands by its duty of care to players and staff and the need to provide facilities as outlined in the HSE Workplace guidelines.
"Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, the club have maintained a leading safety record.
"This is attributed to the hard work of both playing and off-field staff to ensure rigorous testing and good practices were in place.
"In the interest of the sport as a whole, the club undertook two difficult fixtures despite the RFL’s own Covid framework allowing for these games to be postponed or cancelled.
"The club’s ownership and management will now reflect on this decision before making further comment.
"Our sole focus in our centenary year will be to secure a Super League place in 2022.
"We will not be distracted in any way from this goal."