MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Australia's National Rugby League has been at pains to emphasise its players can be trusted to follow social distancing rules and that the competition can restart safely later this month amid fears about the new coronavirus.
But that message appears to have fallen on deaf ears in Albury, New South Wales state, where local officials have banned three-times champions Melbourne Storm from using public facilities.
The Storm are using Albury, a town of 50,000 people in southern NSW, as their training base ahead of the May 28 restart of the NRL season, which was suspended after two rounds due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The team are banned from training in their home state of Victoria due to stricter social distancing rules.
While the NSW state government had approved the Storm's visit, Albury's city council voted at an extraordinary meeting late on Tuesday to ban the team from training at Greenfield Park, the home field of a local rugby league team, or any other public venues in their jurisdiction.
Letting the Storm use facilities that were off-limits to the public due to COVID-19 would have been "a slap in the face" to residents, Albury councillor and deputy mayor Amanda Cohn said.
Other councillors complained that the state government had not consulted with them adequately on the Storm visit and that they did not trust the players to abide by public health orders.
Storm winger Josh Addo-Carr was one of four players fined by the NRL last week for breaching social distancing rules after he went on a camping trip at a rural property belonging to South Sydney fullback Latrell Mitchell.
"There have been too many examples of breaches, recently," councillor Graham Docksey told local radio station 2GB.
"I’m a fan of Melbourne Storm. I played rugby league at high school and I played rugby league in the early days of the army.
"But this was a chance I was not prepared to take for my community."
Although Storm management expressed disappointment with the decision, they were prepared for the snub and quickly shifted training to a private venue that hosts the local Australian Rules football team.
Storm CEO Dave Donaghy said his team had otherwise been welcomed with "open arms" by Albury residents and promised that his players would not be mingling with the public unnecessarily.
"We will largely be ghosts in Albury," he said.
"We will be at the hotel, we will be shuttled to the gym.
"They’re fully aware of the sanctions that will apply if anyone stands out of line with that."
(Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by Peter Rutherford)
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