Sydney - Australian
rugby league authorities announced tough and controversial new rules to
crack down on players accused of serious crimes on Thursday after a spate
of off-field incidents tarnished the game's reputation.
Under the regime, players who are charged with serious criminal
offences will now be automatically suspended. Previously, they could
continue playing while they awaited the outcome of their court cases.
St George Illawarra's Jack de Belin, who is facing sexual assault
allegations, was on Thursday the first to be banned, although he will
still be able to train with the team.
He has pleaded not guilty and concerns have been raised that suspending players could impact their presumption of innocence.
"If we were to shift the policy and stand a player down, we're in
dangerous territory," said Rugby League Players Association chief
executive Ian Prendergast ahead of the decision.
"We're making that decision with the same set of facts that are
before the courts and we've been concerned about the public debate given
the very real potential to prejudice the party's right to a fair
But Australian Rugby League Commission chairman Peter Beattie said there must be benchmark set for the sake of the sport.
"We've spent a considerable amount of time working on what's in the
best interests of rugby league," Beattie said in a statement.
"I want to make it clear this is no fault, we're making no judgement
whatsoever, in relation to any player charged with any offence.
"What we're doing is setting a benchmark and standard for the game of rugby league," he said.
"We do have a responsibility of player welfare and we want to have a
clear partnership with all clubs. They'll be able to train with the
team," he added.
Beattie said serious offences would be deemed anything with a maximum penalty of 11 years in prison or above.
The fate of players charged with an offence carrying a jail term of
less than 11 years, including violence against women or children, would
be at the discretion of National Rugby League chief executive Todd
The decision to change the rules comes after a series of recent incidents.
Earlier this month, high-profile Ben Barba, who has had stints in
France and England, was kicked out of the sport in Australia over
allegations of domestic violence.
Last year, Jarryd Hayne, along with de Belin, were charged with
sexual assault, while Manly's Dylan Walker has pleaded not guilty to