FEATHERSTONE have been deducted two points and fined £10,000 after being found guilty of breaching the RFL’s operational rules.
But Rovers say they are “deeply disappointed” by the decision, which the governing body say was agreed between themselves and the Championship club, who are targeting a place in Super League next season.
It follows an indoor gathering at Rovers’ Millennium Stadium at a time when national lockdown restrictions were in place preventing people from different households meeting indoors.
It’s a second setback in three days for second-placed Featherstone, who suffered a first league defeat of the season at home to table-topping Toulouse on Sunday.
The club were found to have held the indoor gathering on Saturday, March 27, when they beat Batley 30-22 in the second round of the Challenge Cup.
Twelve players involved in the gathering were included in the team for the following Friday’s home league clash with Batley, which Featherstone won 28-18. That was in breach of the RFL’s Covid protocols, under which they should have been stood down.
An RFL investigation began when photographs, which included club chairman Mark Campbell, emerged on social media.
The club initially claimed the only player present was the one who could be identified from the photographs – Brett Ferres, who was immediately stood down for ten 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, Featherstone were able to field a virtual full-strength team against Batley the following Friday.
But CCTV footage of the illegal gathering later obtained by police showed 23 people present, including twelve who played in the Challenge Cup clash with Batley.
Operational rules do not allow for the results of completed fixtures to be altered, but Featherstone have been stripped the equivalent of the two competition points they gained from this victory.
An RFL statement said: “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 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 club issued a statement which said: “Featherstone Rovers are deeply disappointed with the RFL’s outcome from its investigation into an alleged social gathering at the club in March of this year.
“The outcome is 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.
“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, that is the Featherstone way!”