Belfast Telegraph

Ulster Rugby introduces sexual consent classes for players

The Kingspan Stadium home of Ulster Rugby (Brian Lawless/PA)
The Kingspan Stadium home of Ulster Rugby (Brian Lawless/PA)

Ulster Rugby have introduced behavioural classes for its academy and professional players.

The BBC has reported the classes will include discussions on sexual consent delivered by charity Women's Aid.

The move comes in the wake of a rape trial earlier this year involving two former Ireland and Ulster rugby stars.

A jury found Ulster and Ireland players Paddy Jackson (26) and Stuart Olding (25) unanimously not guilty of rape in March.

Both players have moved to France to continue their careers after having their Ulster contracts terminated.

Despite their acquittal, issues surrounding consent, alcohol use and a series of explicit WhatsApp communications provoked widespread criticism.

The IRFU pledged "to conduct an in-depth review of existing structures and educational programmes" to uphold their core values of "respect, inclusivity and integrity".

In response, the IRFU introduced classes on sexual consent, alcohol and social media for all professional players in Ireland earlier this year.

The classes delivered by English consultancy firm Gleeson Mills are interactive and role-playing features heavily.

Dr Deirdre Lyons, head of the player development programme at Rugby Players Ireland, said the classes were about "having open and honest conversations with the players about what happened in Belfast and what happens in their sport".

Ulster Rugby Operations Director Bryn Cunningham
Ulster Rugby Operations Director Bryn Cunningham

Speaking to BBC News NI, Ulster Rugby's Director of Operations Bryn Cunningham said that Ulster Rugby's reputation had been damaged by the rape trial.

"Irrespective of what happened we knew that there would be reputational damage from it," he said.

"We were prepared for that and we have a job still to do to repair some of that."

Mr Cunningham said the classes would help players make good choices in their lives.

"The player group will go through probably five to six fairly intensive three to four hour sessions on one of our down days," he said.

"That will cover a variety of different areas.

"A lot of it will be around social life and social engagement - whenever players go out, how they conduct themselves and how they can protect themselves as well.

"It could be situations with the opposite sex, it could be situations where it's with other individuals who want to be antagonistic or want to start a fight."

The Chief Executive of Women's Aid Northern Ireland Jan Melia said the charity was working with Ulster Rugby to develop classes for players.

"It's a bespoke programme which builds on what we do in communities anyway," she said.

"The broad framework is what's safe and what isn't and how do we be safe and if there's an issue how do we talk about that issue.

"The intricacies of that are going to depend on the class and from those involved in the class as well."

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