Australia's National Rugby League has criticised two players for an "unacceptable" breach of social distancing rules by having a camping trip in rural New South Wales state.
With the NRL season suspended due to the coronavirus, Australia internationals Latrell Mitchell and Josh Addo-Carr camped at Mitchell's farm near Taree, on NSW's mid-north coast, with Addo-Carr posting photos of the trip on social media. One picture published widely in Australian media featured the Aboriginal rugby league stars gathered by a campfire with 10 other people.
"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, which has recorded more than 6,700 COVID-19 cases and 83 deaths, has ordered people to stay at home with a few exceptions including trips to work or school, buying essential supplies and exercise. NSW Police deputy commissioner Gary Worboys told Australian media police would investigate the camping trip. Addo-Carr, a winger for the Melbourne Storm club, said he was with family on the trip.
"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," Sydney newspaper, the Daily Telegraph, quoted him as saying. "Mate, it was cultural gathering. Learning about our land and our culture, learning how to hunt, live off the land."
The lockdown breach has embarrassed the NRL which is trying to build trust with authorities before it attempts to restart the competition on May 28. The season was suspended in March after two rounds due to travel restrictions aimed at containing the virus.
"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."