Collingwood’s Steele Sidebottom has been slapped with a four-match ban for breaching the league’s strict coronavirus guidelines.
The harsh penalty was handed down after Sidebottom was reportedly found ‘half-naked’ on the streets of Melbourne and taken home by police, after a night of drinking with teammate Lynden Dunn.
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Dunn was handed a one match ban for his role in the breach.
Sidebottom’s penalty is believed to be much harsher because he breached the restrictions multiple times over the course of Saturday evening - first when he and Dunn shared an Uber after visiting injured teammate Jeremy Howe, and again later when Sidebottom went to the home of former teammate and now Collingwood employee Daniel Wells.
Under the guidelines, Wells was not on the list of staff players were approved to visit.
Sidebottom had to be taken home by police after visiting Wells’ home.
In a statement, AFL general counsel Andrew Dillon said the harsh penalty should serve as a warning to other players.
Collingwood vice-captain Steele Sidebottom and defender Lynden Dunn have been suspended for breaches of the AFL’s return to play protocols.— Collingwood FC (@CollingwoodFC) July 1, 2020
“The sanctions enforced in recent weeks should have been the reminder for everyone across the clubs, so we are disappointed to be having to deal with these breaches,” he said.
“Now, more than ever, we all must continue to be vigilant and respect that the protocols are in place to ensure the safety of the players, their families, clubs, staff and the wider community.”
Collingwood disappointed with Sidebottom ban
The Magpies have since responded to the sanction against their players, with general manager of football Geoff Walsh describing Sidebottom’s ban as ‘excessive’ in a statement published on the club’s website.
The club compared the four week ban to the one-week sanction handed to Melbourne’s Charlie Spargo, arguing it was a harsh and inconsistent penalty.
“Collingwood and Sidebottom share the view that his four-match ban is excessive, inconsistent with recent protocol breaches and contestable,” the statement read.
Walsh went on to say both the club and Sidebottom had agreed it was in the best interests of the game not to appeal the ban.
“To his credit, Steele considered what was in the best interests of the code and Collingwood,” Walsh said.
“Firstly, he accepts that he made some poor decisions but he also feels it is the right thing to accept the punishment, a greater punishment than most believe is fair, to avoid a distraction that could create difficulties for the competition and his team-mates.
“That’s the sort of person Steele is.
“As a club, we considered all options but our disappointment over Steele’s suspension is no greater than it is over the fact that two senior players breached the return to play protocols.
“Everyone knows Steele and Lynden started out with the best of intentions, to console an injured team-mate, but our players and staff have been well educated on the protocols and we take our social responsibilities seriously.”
Fans react to Sidebottom penalty
News of the ban prompted a mixed reaction from footy fans and pundits alike.
While most agreed the penalty was harsh, some argued it was necessary to ensure the league could continue to play amid the surge in coronavirus cases in Melbourne.
Others though, said the AFL was being too heavy-handed.
(1/2) I like Sidebottom. But anyone who thinks four weeks is harsh needs to understand the whole competition is hinging on government support, in terms of a licence to play. We’re a couple of positive tests away from falling over.— Tom Browne (@TomBrowne7) July 1, 2020
I like Steele Sidebottom a lot as a player & probably a great bloke but I think it was a good decision to come down hard on him just to set a statement to everyone else. Good stuff by the AFL. They know the rules— Paddy Anderson (@PaddyAndersonn) July 1, 2020
So, I pledged my $1,000 membership so that Steele Sidebottom could stuff around and think he’s above the law and go get himself suspended for a month? Seriously this club is going to put me in a grave.— Paige Cardona (@paigecardona) July 1, 2020
Not allowed outside until Steele Sidebottom is playing for Collingwood again. Got it.— Matt Goss (@mattgoss_) July 1, 2020
The running commentary on Steele Sidebottom from those trying to get to the bottom of the "real story" is rather amusing. All is forgiven Conor McKenna.— Tim Gossage 🤓🎙📺 (@TimGossage) July 1, 2020
Collingwood are placed fifth on the AFL ladder heading into round five, with two wins and a draw to their name from the opening rounds.
They’re set to take on Essendon on Friday night.