Sharks fined, Shane suspended

  • by NRL
  • December 17 2013 1:07PM

The National Rugby League (NRL) has completed its review of governance issues at the Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks Football Club (the Club) in 2010 and 2011 and the preliminary findings have identified serious failures on the part of the Club and certain individuals who had a responsibility to safeguard the health and welfare of its players.

NRL CEO, Mr Dave Smith, announced today the preliminary findings are that the Club breached the NRL Code of Conduct in several respects and that Head Coach Shane Flanagan and the then Head of Strength and Conditioning Trent Elkin were responsible for a number of the failings leading to those contraventions.

In consequence, a Breach Notice has today been issued to the Club which sets out the alleged breach and the proposed penalty and written notification has been given to Mr Flanagan and Mr Elkin of the NRL's intention to take action with respect to their registration.

Mr Smith, however, stressed that the findings are only provisional and that no final view can be reached until the Club, Mr Flanagan and Mr Elkin are afforded a proper opportunity to respond.

"Information of a serious nature has been presented, and following a thorough and rigorous assessment, I have formed a preliminary view that the Club is in breach of the rules and that action needs to be taken with respect to the registrations of two individuals," Mr Smith said.

"Before any final determination is made, I will give full consideration to the contents of any response made by the Club, Mr Flanagan and Mr Elkin."

The preliminary findings against the Club for breach of the NRL Code of Conduct include that it:

- Exposed players to significant potential risks to health

- Exposed players to possible breaches of the NRL Anti-Doping Rules

- Allowed persons without the necessary qualifications and training to administer supplements to players

- Failed to obtain the fully informed consent of players to the administration of particular supplements

- Failed to ensure proper supervision and controls were in place

- Failed to devise and implement systems to ensure compliance with appropriate standards to safeguard the health and welfare of its players

- Failed to take appropriate action when it became aware that unsafe practices had been employed in the administration of supplements to players

The preliminary findings against Shane Flanagan include that he:

- Failed to ensure a safe and healthy work environment

- Failed to properly supervise the Head of Strength and Conditioning

- Failed to ensure the Head of Strength and Conditioning complied with his obligation to inform the Club Doctor about changes that had been made to the supplement program and to obtain his prior approval with respect to those changes.

- Failed to take appropriate action when he became aware that unsafe practices had been employed in the administration of supplements to players

- Failed to ensure that the Head of Strength and Conditioning complied with a protocol that had been agreed on 7 April 2011 to the effect that the prior approval of the Club Doctor be obtained with respect to any supplements that were intended to be administered to players 

The preliminary findings against Trent Elkin include that he:

- Exposed players to significant potential risks to health

- Exposed players to possible breaches of the NRL Anti-Doping Rules

- Allowed persons without the necessary qualifications and training to administer supplements by injection

- Personally injected players without adequate qualifications and training to do so

- Failed to obtain the fully informed consent of players to the administration of particular supplements

- Failed to comply with his obligation to inform the Club Doctor about changes that had been made to the supplement program and to obtain his prior approval with respect to those changes

- Misrepresented material facts to players in relation to the supplement program

- Failed to comply with a protocol that had been agreed on 7 April 2011 to the effect that the prior approval of the Club Doctor be obtained with respect to any supplements that were intended to be administered to players

The Breach Notice against the Club contains proposed penalties that include:

- A fine of $1,000,000, $400,000 of which will be suspended subject to the satisfaction by the Club of a number of conditions including completion of an independent governance review and further governance changes.

In relation to Mr Flanagan:

- It is proposed that his NRL registration be suspended for 12 months. It is also proposed that this period may be shortened to 9 months if he successfully completes further education and training and demonstrates to the satisfaction of the NRL that he is familiar with and understands his obligations as Head Coach.

In relation to Mr Elkin:

- It is proposed that his NRL registration be cancelled. If that is the final decision, he will of course be at liberty to apply for registration at some time in the future but it is fair to observe that it is unlikely that any such application would receive favourable consideration if it is brought at any time within the next two years. Nevertheless, any future application – whenever made – will be properly considered on its merits.

Given the serious nature and the circumstances, the Club and the individuals have been given until 15 January 2014 to respond. Should a response be received, it will be properly considered before any final decision is made.

Mr Smith indicated that, if the preliminary findings prove to be justified, conduct that could have put at risk the health and well-being of players would be regarded as entirely unacceptable and completely contrary to the game's rules and values.

"We will not accept practices that put our players at risk," Mr Smith said.

"Clubs are obligated to ensure proper processes are in place to protect our players and we will hold clubs and individuals to account if there is a failure to do so.

"The NRL has also taken significant steps to ensure risk is minimised in the future.

"We have established an Integrity Unit, implemented new and sophisticated drug testing procedures, introduced new supplement and medical procedures including mechanisms that elevate the role of doctors. We now have in place a registration system of over 700 staff and personnel," Mr Smith said.

Mr Smith reassured the fans and members of the Club that the NRL would not turn its back on them.

"I understand that the Club and its fans and members will be concerned by what is proposed.

"I want to reassure them that, in arriving at the penalty proposed in the Breach Notice, I have assessed all the mitigating factors, including that there is a new board and management team in place and that they are already making effective changes to build a stronger governance framework.

"I also want to restate that I have not in any sense reached a final view about these matters and the same applies to the course of action I have proposed with respect to Mr Flanagan and Mr Elkin.

"At the appropriate time we will consult with the Club on the terms of the final determination of penalties," Mr Smith said.

In relation to any anti-doping rule violations, while at this stage ASADA has not provided any information warranting any further infraction notices, this investigation remains ongoing.

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