9th December 2020,
An independent disciplinary panel chaired by Philip Evans QC has today published its judgement on the 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 cancelation 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.
All players (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 has determined a range of sanctions according to the severity of the breaches.
The total charges across 13 players are 85 weeks of match bans; 44 weeks suspended subject to conditions being met and 41 weeks of bans to be taken concurrently; players have been fined a total of 18.5 weeks salary and given a total of 630 hours of community service. For a breakdown of the individual sanctions click here.
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 under the protocol , 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.
The original article can be found here.