‘The AFL said, in a statement, that Sidebottom had also been sanctioned ‘in relation to his conduct following his departure from a Collingwood staff member’s home in an intoxicated state that resulted in him being picked up by police and delivered home”.
The view among the parties involved in the case is that Sidebottom’s incident was terribly timed, given the concerns about the COVID-19 spike in Victoria, and that this did not help his cause when the AFL was determining a penalty.
The suspension means Sidebottom, one of Collingwood’s best and most consistent players, will miss not only Friday night’s game but the next match – scheduled to be Brisbane – and then Geelong in Perth, followed by either West Coast or Fremantle.
Sidebottom, his management and the Magpies considered an appeal, but it was the player himself who opted not to fight it – concerned about the impact on team mates and the competition, according to Collingwood.
In a statement, the club said: “Collingwood and Sidebottom share the view that his four-match ban is excessive, inconsistent with recent protocol breaches and contestable.
“However, club and player concluded that for the greater good of the game and the realities of our time it was necessary to end the matter.
Collingwood’s football boss Geoff Walsh said in a statement: “To his credit, Steele considered what was in the best interests of the code and Collingwood.
“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.
“We respect the privilege we have to play and the conditions under which we must live in order to play.
“As a code and as a community we have to remain vigilant and disciplined. This episode and the circumstances out in the wider community reinforce the need to minimise the risk of transmission.”
AFL general counsel Andrew Dillon said that the AFL’s protocols had been clearly communicated, reviewed and accepted by all players across the league.
”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.
“We acknowledge both players’ remorse and cooperation with the investigation and recognise they reported the breaches to the club to ensure any risk could be mitigated. 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.”
Jake Niall is a Walkley award-winning sports journalist and chief AFL writer for The Age.
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