Manly Warringah Sea Eagles player Addin Fonua-Blake will be a volunteer referee in wheelchair rugby league and pay a $20,000 fine for use by a wheelchair rugby league club for breaching the National Rugby League’s (NRL) Anti-Vilification Code.
Acting Chief Executive Andrew Abdo will also recommend to the Australian Rugby League Commission (ARLC) that Match Review Committee guidelines be changed to include a mandatory referral to the judiciary for serious abuse or intimidation of match officials.
Mr Abdo made the determination today after he met with Fonua-Blake, Sea Eagles Chief Executive Stephen Humphreys and coach Des Hasler on Thursday afternoon.
Fonua-Blake will pay the full $20,000 fine which will be donated to Wheelchair Rugby League Australia to buy new wheelchairs. He will also donate his time to refereeing during the season to gain a better understanding and respect of disability groups.
The practical component of the penalty will commence once COVID-19 biosecurity protocols are eased. The penalty under the Anti-Vilification Code is in addition to the two-match suspension handed down by the Match Review Committee after Sunday’s match against the Newcastle Knights.
Fonua-Blake pleaded guilty to a Grade 3 Contrary Conduct charge. Mr Abdo said the additional penalty was designed to drive change.
“The focus of this penalty is about rehabilitation and education, it’s not punitive. I do not believe Addin missing more matches will enhance his understanding or respect for people with a disability, but embarking on a program such as this will have a lifelong impact on his thinking,” he said.
“I see this as an opportunity to provide positive change for Addin and his experiences will also rub off on the broader playing group. Increasing the suspension is an easy decision but what is more important is driving change in attitudes. Sport has a responsibility to drive community change.”
Mr Abdo reiterated the NRL stood for inclusivity. He said vilification of any group or race would not be tolerated.
“Ignorance is not an excuse for the responsibility our professional players carry. There is no tolerance for comments like we witnessed on Sunday,” he said.
“Rugby league breaks down social barriers and gives everyone an opportunity to participate. Inclusivity is the foundation of our game.”
Mr Abdo said he would seek the Commission’s approval to ensure stronger penalties for abuse of match officials.
“Abuse of match officials is unacceptable and will not be tolerated. A mandatory referral to the judiciary for any matters of abuse will ensure penalties meet community expectations,” he said.
“Our match officials have the toughest job in the game and there is absolutely no tolerance for abuse towards them.”