Belfast Telegraph

Rugby players to receive 'sexual relationship' classes following Jackson and Olding rape trial

By Mark Edwards

Professional rugby players will receive classes about sexual relationships as part of the sport’s response to fallout from the rape trial of former Ulster players Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding.

The two players were sacked by both Ulster Rugby and the IRFU despite being acquitted of rape. Jackson was found not guilty of a further charge of sexual assault.

The trial focused on a series of sexually explicit WhatsApp conversations involving the players and friends about the encounter at the centre of the rape trial, which referred to women in derogatory terms.

In response Rugby Players Ireland (RPI) will include “sexual health and relationships” into its wellbeing workshop programme this year.

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Paddy Jackson speaks to journalists after he was found not guilty of rape

In a statement, RPI said: “The content of this programme is reviewed on an annual basis to ensure that it continues to evolve in line with current trends.

"We have invested more resources in this area, including broadening the curriculum delivered to players through individual consultations, group workshops and the provision of educational material so that all players receive the support they need in their daily lives, while also preparing them for their transition from the game.

“A new feature of the programme for 2018 will see RPI and the IRFU host an Induction Camp for all new academy players, which will bring our services into focus and emphasise the importance of a players’ holistic development.

"Additionally, we are also hosting members of the Irish Women’s XV squad for a weekend of learning and team-building.”

Earlier this year, Dr Ella McCabe, a senior clinical psychologist, was appointed as head of the player wellbeing programme at RPI and is facilitating a number of workshops designed to educate the players on healthy behavioural attitudes in the coming weeks.

It is understood the workshops will contain a module on sexual relationships and will be conducted through the four provincial bodies.

The RPI statement added: “In light of recent events, we are actively developing the contents of our player wellbeing programme in conjunction with the IRFU and provincial management teams, to ensure that our values of integrity, inclusivity and respect, integral to the game of rugby, are understood by all our players and reflected in their behaviour on and off the pitch".

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Belfast Feminist Network activists hold a protest outside the Kingspan Stadium (Liam McBurney/PA)

As well as clearing Jackson and Olding, a jury also found their two co-accused friends not guilty - Rory Harrison of perverting the course of justice and Blane McIlroy of exposure.

Following the trial, dozens of people staged a protest organised by Belfast Feminist Network outside the Kingspan Stadium at Ravenhill before Ulster’s game with Osprey’s on April 14.

Protesters said that they were demonstrating against “an underbelly of sexism and misogyny in rugby.”

Ulster Rugby is due to meet the head of Women’s Aid in Northern Ireland, Jan Melia, next month.

She has described the organisations’ decision to sack Jackson and Olding following an internal review of their conduct as “prudent.”

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