Belfast Telegraph

Ulster rugby fans consider protest over decision to sack rape trial pair Jackson and Olding

By Adrian Rutherford

Rugby fans angered by the sacking of Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding are considering protests at Ulster's next game.

Some have called for a boycott of this weekend's home match with Glasgow. Others say they are thinking about snubbing team colours or staging a late walk-in to Saturday night's clash in Belfast.

It came as former Ulster star Neil Best accused the club of "betrayal" and "scapegoating" the pair.

The protest threat is the latest dramatic development in the fallout from the high-profile rape trial.

On Saturday, employers Ulster Rugby and the Irish Rugby Football Union announced that Jackson and Olding's contracts had been revoked with immediate effect.

It came 17 days after both were found not guilty of raping a woman following a night out.

As the fallout continued:

* Fans rounded on Ulster and the IRFU, claiming the decision to axe Jackson and Olding had been "spineless" and "a travesty";

* Those behind Friday night's 'Stamp Out Misogyny' protest at Kingspan welcomed their departures;

* It emerged the players are set to resurrect their careers outside of Ireland, with top French side Clermont Auvergne leading the chase for Jackson;

* Sources said both had agreed financial settlements "close to the contract value" of the players;

* Ulster's supporters' club said it would be canvassing fans' views before taking its next step.

More than a fortnight after the not guilty verdicts at Belfast Crown Court, the story shows little sign of going away.

While Jackson (26) and Olding (25) were unanimously cleared of rape - Jackson was also cleared of a further charge of sexual assault - after the 42-day trial, other aspects of their behaviour were heavily criticised.

The IRFU and Ulster Rugby review 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.

The messages, which referred to women in derogatory terms, were presented as evidence during the trial.

Following the verdicts, Ulster Rugby and the IRFU announced an internal review into the pair's conduct.

On Saturday, a joint statement confirmed the players' contracts had been revoked with immediate effect.

It added: "In arriving at this decision, the Irish Rugby Football Union and Ulster Rugby acknowledge our responsibility and commitment to the core values of the game - respect, inclusivity and integrity."

Ireland and Ulster star Craig 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.

Jackson said he was "deeply disappointed" with the outcome, but recognised that his behaviour had "fallen far short of the values expected of me as an international player, a role model for the game of rugby and as a son and a brother".

Olding also expressed regret, saying: "I am very sorry this day has come to pass."

But fans who had supported both players criticised the decision, branding it "spineless".

On a supporters' forum, some openly called for protests at this Saturday's game.

While a small number urged an outright boycott, others suggested staying away from bars or food outlets, while others said they were considering turning up late or without team colours.

Yesterday former Ulster star Neil Best hit out at the club's handling of the saga.

He said: "At the heart of this whole situation has been a sense of betrayal - firstly by the players of the values of their families and the club, and now by the club of young men, products of their youth system - now sacrificed - not seen to be on the altar of morals and ethics, but perceived to be on the altar of sponsorship and money."

Ulster's official supporters' club previously expressed concern that ticket renewals could drop if Jackson and Olding were not reinstated. Last night it issued a further statement, saying: "Previously URSC had said it respected the judicial outcome and the review process. Subsequently URSC asked that the review outcome be proportionate and in line with precedence.

"URSC will now examine the review outcome, and taking account of its members' views, will provide its considered response in due course.

"Very shortly, members will receive an email containing a short questionnaire pertaining to this.

"We would encourage as many members as possible to respond to help the committee accurately reflect the feelings of members and act accordingly."

An online petition calling for the players to be reinstated to the Ulster Rugby team has now had more than 18,000 signatures.

What the statements said

IRFU and  Ulster Rugby: “Following a review, conducted in the aftermath of recent court proceedings, the Irish Rugby Football Union and Ulster Rugby have revoked the contracts of Patrick Jackson and Stuart Olding with immediate effect. In arriving at this decision, the Irish Rugby Football Union and Ulster Rugby acknowledge our responsibility and commitment to the core values of the game: respect, inclusivity and integrity. It has been agreed, as part of this commitment, to conduct an in-depth review of existing structures and educational programmes, within the game in Ireland, to ensure the importance of these core values is clearly understood, supported and practised at every level of the game.”

Paddy Jackson: “I am deeply disappointed about the outcome of the IRFU and Ulster Rugby’s internal review.

“However, I recognise that my behaviour has fallen far short of the values expected of me as an international player, a role model for the game of rugby and as a son and a brother. I am truly sorry.

“Since I was a young boy it was my ambition to play for Ulster and Ireland and I am extremely proud, privileged and honoured to have done so.

“It is therefore with great sadness and regret but with many cherished memories that I leave that behind.

“I would like to thank everyone who has supported me throughout this process. I have taken great strength from that support. I’d also like to thank Ulster and Irish rugby for the opportunities that they provided for me and I wish them, and all my former team mates, every success.

“My focus in the months and years ahead will be on rebuilding the trust placed in me by people throughout Ulster and Ireland.”

Stuart Olding: “It is with regret that I have been informed that the IRFU have decided to revoke my contract.

“As I said outside court following my acquittal, I am and will always be fiercely proud of having played for my province and country.

“I very much wished to continue to have the opportunity to represent them. Regrettably, influences outside of my contractual arrangement have made it impossible for that to happen.

“I said outside court that the Stuart Olding that you read about in the trial is not the real Stuart Olding. The treatment that I have received since my acquittal, both fair and unfair, has made me even more determined to prove myself.

“With the support of my family and friends I shall seek new challenges elsewhere.  I bear no one any ill will.

“I am very sorry that this day has come to pass.  To those who have supported me through these last 20 months and especially the fans who continue to support me, I thank you all.”

Belfast Telegraph

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