The AFL has been slammed over its handling of the Adelaide Crows' coronavirus breach, with key figures around the game said to be disgusted by the punishments dished out to the club.
Adelaide assistant coach Ben Hart has been stood down and 16 Crows players given suspended one-game bans for breaking the AFL's coronavirus training protocols.
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Hart will not be able to access the club facilities or have contact with players for six weeks for overseeing last week's botched training session in the Barossa Valley.
An AFL investigation found the breach was inadvertent and the Crows were was not seeking a competitive advantage when they trained together.
The 16 players and Hart were in self-isolation at a golf resort in the Barossa Valley, north of Adelaide, after returning to South Australia from interstate.
The group had received permission to train in pairs, as stipulated by AFL coronavirus protocols.
But towards the end of two-hour session last Thursday the players - in two groups of eight - trained together.
The Crows were fortunate that the sanctions were handed down under the current protocols, with tougher penalties for virus breaches set to be implemented.
Speaking on Channel 9’s Footy Classified, respected AFL journalist Caroline Wilson said the lenient penalties handed to the Crows were an "embarrassment" for the AFL and they've left rival clubs "disgusted".
“Every AFL club I’ve spoken to today cannot believe that the AFL wasn’t harsher on the Crows,” she said.
“I agree a fine would have been tough. The Crows are probably, ultimately, going to have to borrow money from the AFL anyway – and members were threatening to dump their memberships if their club was penalised.
“So I can understand the financial penalty is not the right thing – and I don’t think draft penalties and I don’t think premiership points (were reasonable). But I just think the players broke the rules and needed to be suspended.”
"A very happy day for the Adelaide Football Club, and a very embarrassing day for the AFL."— Footy on Nine (@FootyonNine) May 11, 2020
Caro slams the punishments handed down to the Crows for their recent training breach.#9FootyClassified | Watch @channel9 pic.twitter.com/wajXPKbzw1
The investigation found the players complied with protocols for the majority of the session when they worked in pairs before separating into two groups of eight players.
One group completed an eight-minute kicking drill while the other an eight-minute running drill in pairs, before swapping.
The breaches occurred during the kicking drills, supervised by Hart.
Wilson said assistant coach Hart had been conveniently been made a scapegoat to save players from heavier punishment.
“I’m not suggesting there was a cover-up by the Crows, but there is absolutely no way that a serious penalty didn’t have to be given to the Crows,” Wilson added.
“To not even be suspended for a week, two weeks, says to me the AFL is saying basically: ‘Footballers are a dumb pack of sheep who have absolutely no idea of what every citizen in Australia understands now’.
Crows assistant coach takes brunt of the punishment
“What Ben Hart has done is put his hand up and said ‘blame me, it’s my fault’.
“What about the high performance boss, who gave the instructions in the first place, who the club felt had done the wrong thing? What about Tom Doedee in the leadership group, Kyle Hartigan who was the oldest player there? Why haven’t they been sanctioned? Were all the 16 players even spoken to?”
Herald Sun footy writer and AFL 360 co-host Mark Robinson was similarly outraged, suggesting Hart wasn't even close to the playing group when the breach happened.
“At worst it’s a cover-up, at best it’s lacking transparency. We still don’t know what happened,” he said.
“The AFL does a great job, we always say that. The AFL likes to have investigations, and scapegoats, and likes having a victim.
“And they come in and they go, you’re it, and Ben Hart’s it, you’re responsible. You’re the senior figure. And he wasn’t even at the training session.
“I’m surprised Adelaide got away with it, in terms of not penalising the club.”
Retired AFL great Nick Dal Santo said the suspended bans handed to the players are a joke that send out a bad message from the AFL.
“(A) suspended sentence is the biggest load of rubbish. It’s nothing. What is a suspended sentence, really?” he said on AFL Tonight.
“We’re going to wait until we’re going through another COVID-19 situation and if they do it again, they’re going to get that one-game suspension?”