Peel Thunder fined $50,000, another two months in job for Ditchburn

BREACH: Outgoing chief executive John Ditchburn will be banned from holding a senior position with the club for the next two years.
BREACH: Outgoing chief executive John Ditchburn will be banned from holding a senior position with the club for the next two years.

Peel Thunder chief executive John Ditchburn has until the end of January to leave the club after it was fined $50,000 for breaching WAFL Rules and Regulations.

He will be banned from holding a senior position with the club for the next two years.

The West Australian Football Commission (WAFC) released the scathing findings of its nine-month investigation of the club on Friday, recommending what is understood to be the strongest sanctions ever issued for a salary cap breach.

It's Peel Thunder second serious breach meaning more severe penalties were handed down.

It found Peel guilty of paying a senior Peel player $5000 cash last year and issuing benefits that were not officially recorded or reported. The breach came to light in March when several of the club's staff were made redundant.

Peel president Bob Ryan said Ditchburn had resigned effective January 31 and the board was working with him to "ensure a smooth transition".

Ditchburn has a 17-year history with the club, having been involved in various roles since 2003 and then taking over the presidency in 2009, followed by the chief executive role in 2015.

Mr Ryan said the board was deeply disappointed and fully appreciated the seriousness of the matter.

The club was committed to making substantial governance and administrative changes, he said.

"The club fully accepts responsibility and takes ownership for the situation," Mr Ryan said.

WAFC also found the club guilty of deliberately providing false and misleading information in the lodgement of the Total Player Payments (TPP); not advising the WAFC in writing of any potential breach of the WAFL Rules and Regulations; failing to comply with the WAFL Licence and Funding agreements; and making a number of declaration and compliance related errors.

The investigation also confirmed the club did not breach the TPP limit.

On top of the fine, WAFC also issued the Peel a reduction of 20 player recruitment points (10 of those being held over as a suspended penalty) and a reduction of 16 premiership points (16 of those points being held over as a suspended penalty).

Mr Ryan said the club had also undertaken its own review to ensure any potential administrative and governance weaknesses were identified.

President Bob Ryan says the club had also undertaken its own review to ensure any potential administrative and governance weaknesses were identified.

President Bob Ryan says the club had also undertaken its own review to ensure any potential administrative and governance weaknesses were identified.

"We acknowledge it was a serious mistake and an unacceptable breach of the WAFC rules," he said. "These actions do not reflect the values of our club."

Prior to the WAFC investigation, the board had begun a number of significant governance and administration improvements which were in progress from early 2020, he said.

These included;

  • Creation of a new General Manager of Football role to oversee all player communications and negotiations.
  • Greater oversight of TPP reporting by the board.
  • Transfer of responsibility for all player communications, contracts, negotiations and payments from chief executive to the newly appointed General Manager of Football.
  • Outsourced HR and staff contracting to an external HR company with transparency to the board via a web portal.
  • A board sub-committee review into weaknesses and improvements in TPP reporting and record keeping and implementation of those findings.
  • Acceptance of recommendation by the governance and finance sub-committee for the Club's board to sign off monthly TPP reports by the football operations committee.

"The club has cooperated with the WAFC throughout the investigation and has committed to ensuring those changes not already implemented are in place as soon as possible," Mr Ryan said.

"The board deeply regret the impact this has had on our players, staff, sponsors and supporters who in no way were involved in this breach.

"We are confident recent changes made by the board will ensure good governance within the club is maintained and we can now focus on the future."

Peel will be subject to two financial audits per year, will be required to transition to a WAFC approved auditor by 2021. The club is also required to update its cash handling process and its board will be required to undergo governance training and an annual board review.

WAFC chair Wayne Martin said that monitoring and enforcement of TPP rules was essential to ensuring the integrity of the WAFL competition, to support the objective of all clubs having an equal opportunity to be competitive and win premierships.

"This has been a detailed investigation with the findings being deeply considered by the board of the WAFC in determining the penalties," Martin said.

"These penalties reflect the seriousness with which the WAFC views this breach...

"I acknowledge the co-operation and governance changes already being applied by the Peel Thunder Football Club Board as a result of this investigation. However, when clear breaches occur, the WAFC must act accordingly in line with the WAFL Rules and Regulations."