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Costly pub lunch for Broncos as NRL issues fine for breach

BRISBANE, Australia (AP) — A simple pub lunch got a whole lot more expensive for the Brisbane Broncos when the National Rugby League fined the club and 10 players a total of 140,000 Australian dollars ($100,000) for breaching rules in place for the coronavirus pandemic.

The NRL announced the sanctions Tuesday, fining the club 75,000 Australian dollars ($54,000) and the players 5% of their weekly salaries after a gathering at a pub in Brisbane’s north on Aug. 1. Under the bio-security regulations that the league and the state government agreed so that the competition could proceed, the Brisbane players were allowed to eat together at a restaurant or a cafe on that day. But reports emerged of players drinking alcohol and gathering in an area set aside for slot machines, sparking an investigation by the league and the state police.

“It is our view that this breach involved a significant failure of the club to properly administer the league’s bio-security protocols,” NRL acting chief executive Andrew Abdo said. The Broncos accepted the sanctions, but chief executive Paul White said the pub visit hadn’t been approved by the club nor were officials aware of it.

“It is an expensive lesson for us all, but it reinforces how important these protocols are to the survival of our competition and community health,” White said. The Broncos have been struggling on and off the field since the NRL resumed in late May following a two-month hiatus when sports were shuttered for the COVID-19 lockdown.

The coach — his job on the line — has been in self-isolation after leaving the club's bio-security bubble to deal with a family matter, three staff members were placed in quarantine hold after attending an event at a pub, and star player Tevita Pangai Jr. was fined 30,000 Australian dollars ($22,000) for attending the opening of a barber shop.

The Broncos are next-to-last in the 16-team league with three wins from 14 games, including a run of 11 losses in 12 games. Abdo said there was no need for the players to be banned from games because of the low health risk, unlike players and coaches who breached protocols in so-called coronavirus hotspots around Sydney and who had to be isolated for 14 days.

“Those decisions were based on a bio-security risk assessment, not an NRL suspension," Abdo said. “The bio-security assessment of each contravention of the league’s protocols will often give rise to different outcomes based on the specific facts of each contravention."

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