Featherstone Rovers have been deducted two Betfred Championship points and fined £10,000 after being found guilty of breaching the RFL’s Operational Rules.
Rovers were found to have held an indoor gathering on Saturday 27 March – a direct breach of the national lockdown restrictions in place at the time – and to have subsequently included in the team for the following Friday’s (2 April) fixture against Batley 12 players who took part in the illegal gathering and who would ordinarily have been forced to stand down under RFL Covid protocols.
The 27 March gathering took place after Featherstone’s Betfred Challenge Cup tie, also against Batley, when the law prohibited people from different households gathering indoors. 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 27 March gathering later obtained by the police showed 23 people present, including 12 players who played in the 28-18 defeat of Batley on 2 April. Operational Rules do not allow for the results of completed fixtures to be altered. However, Featherstone have been stripped 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.
This case also has a direct and very important on-field link. It is abundantly clear that the club should have stood down the players in question in accordance with RFL Covid-19 protocols, once it became aware of that the illegal gathering had taken place. The club did not do so, and the players involved went on to play in the Championship game against Batley, contributing both to the result and risking the unnecessary spread of the virus.
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 Betfred Championship league table has been amended to reflect the points deduction.