A teenage WAG at the centre of a COVID-19 breach scandal after sneaking in to an AFL quarantine zone to visit her boyfriend has revealed ‘how easy’ it was to pull off.
Sydney Swans young gun Elijah Taylor was suspended for the remainder of the season after Lekahni Pearce entered the hub under the cover of darkness last Friday.
Taylor was part way through a 14-day isolation period with his teammates at Perth’s Joondalup Resort when Ms Pearce snuck in.
The teenager, who hadn’t seen her boyfriend for two weeks, said everything initially went to plan.
‘No security, I didn’t see a security guard,’ Ms Pearce told 7News.
Veteran AFL journalist Caroline Wilson reported Ms Pearce had crossed a golf course and jumped two fences in order to sneak into the hub.
But Ms Pearce said that wasn’t the case.
‘I just walked through, went to his room,’ she said. ‘That’s how easy it was.
‘I didn’t jump any fences.’
Senior teammates caught Ms Pearce in Taylor’s room, reportedly eight hours after she arrived, and brought the situation to the attention of Swans head of football Charlie Gardiner.
The Swans were fined $50,000 by the AFL for the breach, with $25,000 suspended.
Ms Pearce apologised for her actions on Tuesday.
‘I am sorry for everything, and like, we did make a really big mistake,’ she said.
The couple will avoid criminal charges under Western Australia’s emergency management act.
Acting WA police commissioner Gary Dreibergs said in Perth on Tuesday they would instead be fined.
Swans coach John Longmire said the Western Australian-raised AFL talent had been specifically reminded about the strict protocols before he travelled to Perth.
‘We talked to Elijah specifically before we left and made sure that we all understand what environment we’re going into,’ Longmire told Fox Sports AFL 360.
‘He still made a very poor choice, he still made a decision to deliberately breach the quarantine and it’s unacceptable, and the ramifications are very much suited to what he did.
‘It was a decision that put so much at risk. He’s only a young player, he’s in his first year of AFL footy, but it was still a terrible decision that has big ramifications.’
WA Police said Ms Pearce entered Taylor’s room during the early hours of Friday morning.
‘The AFL directions specify that only authorised persons are permitted to enter the Joondalup Resort during the quarantine period,’ a police statement read.
‘The player’s partner is not an authorised person.’
Ms Pearce had just completed her own mandatory self-quarantine period after flying in from Sydney a fortnight ago.
Taylor, who is the nephew of former AFL star turned Channel Seven commentator Brian Taylor, has played four games for the Swans since being drafted from Western Australia.
The 19-year-old made his AFL debut just four weeks ago in the Swans’ loss again the Gold Coast Suns at the SCG and was dropped from the line-up ahead of Thursday night’s local derby against the Giants.
He began isolating with the Swans on August 7. He has been allowed to remain in the quarantine hub.
Ms Pearce was issued a further temporary quarantine direction which will be subject to ongoing review.
She, like her boyfriend is also originally from Western Australia, according to her social media accounts.
Sydney Swans CEO Tom Harley said the club is incredibly disappointed by the breach but accepts the penalties.
‘We’re extremely disappointed to be in this position as our staff and players are all well aware of both the AFL protocols and the restrictions we are required to adhere to while in quarantine,’ Harley said.
‘We have spoken to Elijah at length and he understands the seriousness of this situation, which has also been reiterated to the entire team.
‘We also appreciate that the circumstances of this year are unique and challenging for everyone, and we will continue to provide support to Elijah, as well as our other staff and players who are away from their families.’
Harley also apologised to the WA community.
‘Clearly the restrictions we are adhering to are designed to protect the community and any breach is unacceptable,’ he said.
WA Premier Mark McGowan was furious over the breach.
‘It’s very disappointing,’ McGowan said on Sunday.
‘The AFL gave us every assurance this wouldn’t happen. The Swans have let us down, the AFL has let us down. We’re disappointed in both organisations.
‘I received an apology from the AFL this morning. I appreciate that but … they promised us this wouldn’t happen and they let us down.’
Mr McGowan warned in July interstate players would be kicked out of Western Australia if they breach quarantine conditions while participating in the AFL hub.
WA health minister Roger Cook hopes the breach hasn’t cost Perth’s chances of hosting the AFL grand final.
‘It’s bitterly disappointing that one of the players thought that they could usurp those rules and really spoil the experience for everyone. The AFL has to step up here. We have comprehensive and extensive guidelines for all the AFL teams,’ he said.
‘Footy is really important to Western Australians, that’s why everyone wants to have the AFL grand final here, but we need to make sure that we do… see football played in the State in a way that doesn’t threaten the public health risk of the community.
WA Police investigations into the breach are continuing.
‘WA Police Force will continue to work with the Department of Health and the AFL in relation to the ongoing management and assessment of the required quarantine arrangements for the Sydney Swans group,’ a police statement read.
The Sydney Swans are the 12th AFL club to be sanctioned over quarantine breaches.