Jackson and Olding not sacked over money, says Ulster chief as he vows to stay on
The decision to sack Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding was not motivated by money, Ulster Rugby's chief executive has insisted.
Speaking for the first time since the pair were cleared of rape, Shane Logan also rejected criticism that they had effectively been hung out to dry by their club and country.
Mr Logan, who has refused to quit despite mounting pressure from fans, said he believed both men had made a "serious mistake" - but said he hoped they would have success elsewhere.
He told the Belfast Telegraph: "There have been no winners and real sadness."
It is the latest development in the continuing fallout from the high-profile rape trial.
Jackson (26) and Olding (25) were found not guilty of raping the same woman in June 2016. Jackson was also unanimously acquitted of sexual assault.
At the weekend, employers Ulster Rugby and the Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU) revoked their contracts following an internal review into their conduct.
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It had focused on a series of sexually explicit WhatsApp conversations involving the players and their friends about the sexual encounter at the centre of the rape trial, which referred to women in derogatory terms.
However, the decision to axe the players has split opinion.
Amid talk of protests at this weekend's game in Belfast, a petition calling for Mr Logan to resign had last night attracted more than 1,000 signatures.
Facing the media for the first time yesterday, Mr Logan:
- Rejected claims that the decision to sack Jackson and Olding had been motivated by money, despite concerns being raised by one of the team's main sponsors;
- Denied that the IRFU had caved in to pressure amid a furious social media backlash;
- Defended the sanction imposed on Craig Gilroy, who was given a two-week suspension but remains at the club despite sending an explicit WhatsApp message for which he has apologised.
- Described the past few months as "traumatic";
- Refused to comment on speculation around pay-offs, amid reports Mr Jackson received a £300,000 settlement, and
- Said the pair were unlikely to play for Ireland or Ulster again.
Jackson and Olding were unanimously acquitted of all charges on March 28 after a high-profile rape trial.
The case, which ran for nine weeks at Belfast Crown Court, brought to light a number of sexually explicit and offensive text exchanges which sparked a wave of protest on social media and on the streets. Last Friday night around 250 people attended a rally outside Kingspan Stadium organised by Belfast Feminist Network.
It came a day after it emerged that Bank of Ireland, which has sponsored the team for 20 years, had said it was "highly concerned" by issues arising out of the rape trial.
But Mr Logan insisted: "No sponsor, including Bank of Ireland, drove the decision. We have taken on board everybody's views right across society, right across our supporter group, our sponsor group, our players, clubs, volunteers - we are part of society.
"But at the end of the day, having looked at all those things, the decision was based on alignment with what it is we stand for, in particular the value of respect.
"The players themselves admitted in their own statements that they were way short of what was expected of them."
Gilroy, who was not involved in the trial, has been disciplined for sending one of the offensive messages that was outlined to the court. He had already been made unavailable for selection and faces a further two-week suspension.
Mr Logan was asked about the different sanctions placed on Gilroy. Put to him that it suggested that Jackson and Olding's contracts weren't revoked on the basis solely of the messages used in evidence, he replied: "The facts of the cases were not the same.
"In relation to Craig, as the press release says, on the facts of his case, he went through a disciplinary process and a sanction was applied.
"It would not be right of me to comment more on what is a private matter between employer and employee."
Mr Logan said the morale in the team, which struggled this season, had taken a battering. However he insisted his position at the top was not under threat.
He said: "My role isn't in question."
On the players' own futures, he added: "They have done a lot for Ulster and Irish Rugby.
"They have made a very serious mistake.
"I hope that they will learn from that and I hope they fulfil their potential going forward."
Some fans angered by Jackson and Olding's departures are said to be considering protests at Ulster's next game against Glasgow on Saturday.
Others say they are thinking about snubbing team colours or staging a late walk-in.
Put to him that there has never been a bigger disconnect between the club and its fans, Mr Logan added: "I will say that the particular disconnects that have occurred around this latest case have cast a dark cloud for at least a season. Those people that are very unhappy with the decision are absolutely entitled to hold that view."
Mr Logan declined to comment on speculation about settlement fees, adding: "That, like any relationship between employer and employee, is not something that is in the public domain."