Waratahs Head Coach Michael Cheika has pleaded guilty to Misconduct relating to an incident that occurred during the Vodacom Super Rugby clash between his side and the Sharks in Durban on 29 March. In a hearing conducted by SANZAR Judicial Officer Nigel Hampton QC (New Zealand), Cheika was found to have breached Section 8.3 (i) of the SANZAR Code of Conduct by verbally abusing a cameraman. “All persons shall not use crude, insulting or abusive language or gestures towards Match Officials, spectators or any other persons involved with the running of a Match.”
The Judicial Officer suspended Cheika from involvement of any kind in all forms of rugby at any level for a period of six months, suspended until 31 August 2015; a ban that would be triggered by a subsequent proven breach of the applicable Code of Conduct. Cheika was also ordered to write an appropriate letter of apology to the SuperSport cameraman and meet SANZAR’s costs of A$6000.
In his finding, Mr Hampton QC ruled the following: “Shortly after half time during the Sharks v Waratahs match on 29 March, Mr Cheika, unfortunately and unprofessionally, vented his frustration on a match-day cameraman who was merely fulfilling his expected role for his employer and, ultimately, for SANZAR. On reviewing all of the evidence, I found that on at least two occasions, Mr Cheika told the cameraman to ‘f*** off’ in a heated way, with accompanied finger pointing and on at least one other occasion, but in the same heated way, the coach used the word ‘f***ing’ in talking to the cameraman, either in reference to that person or his equipment, although, on the state of the evidence, I did not find proven that this was a threat, whether to person or to property. In his original account submitted on 8 April, Mr Cheika admitted to ‘stern’ language on one occasion, but deliberately omitted the specific language he used and I find his claim, in evidence, to have used ‘f*** off’ only once unconvincing. I do not regard Mr Cheika to be a first time offender and it would be farcical to disregard other matters over the past nine years, including proven Misconduct allegations from his time as a professional coach in Europe and a warning from SANZAR during the 2013 Super Rugby season. This matter bears a number of striking similarities with past instances, particularly the use of foul and abusive language towards those charged with running a match and the propensity of Mr Cheika to behave in this manner is disturbing. Given his previous record and the factual findings of the investigation, I regard this as a serious offence and do not see it as a result of any provocation, nor is there any excuse for it. Mr Cheika’s admission of guilt and contrition during the hearing is balanced by inappropriate accusations made on his behalf that witnesses fabricated evidence; a notion they rightly recoiled at. Respect is a core value of rugby and there must be general deterrents in place to prevent any abuse of match officials and persons charged with running the game. Similarly, I find it appropriate to impose a deterrent that is specific to Mr Cheika given his past record and this present Misconduct. I therefore order that Mr Cheika:
i) is to be suspended from involvement of any kind in all forms of rugby at any level for a period of six months, suspended until 31 August 2015;
ii) shall write a formal letter of apology to the SuperSport cameraman and;
iii) meets SANZAR’s costs of A$6000.
This decision sends a clear message that this type of behaviour and the inherent lack of respect it demonstrates is not acceptable and will not be tolerated.”
Cheika has been advised of his right to appeal which must be exercised within 48 hours of the receipt of the written finding.