Belfast Telegraph

Ulster supporters call for Jackson and Olding 'early reinstatement' - review outcome will 'strongly influence season ticket renewal'

By Jonathan Bell

The independent official Ulster Rugby Supporters’club says the "vast majority" of its members are calling for the "early reinstatement" of Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding to the team saying they will not renew season tickets or attend the Kingspan in future if they are stopped from playing for the club.

The organisation said it would be concerned at the financial impact on the club given the number of fans concerned.

Jackson and Olding were unanimously acquitted of rape after a lengthly nine-week trial in Belfast.

Following the verdicts Ulster and the Irish Rugby Football Union said they would begin a review to determine their course of action saying the players will not return to the field until that review has taken place. It's understood that process including two senior figures from each organisation begun on Monday.

Both Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding have said they are determined to return to the pitch.

Last week Paddy Jackson apologised unreservedly for engaging in "degrading and offensive" WhatsApp conversations about the incident.

"The criticism of my behaviour is fully justified and I know I have betrayed the values of my family and those of the wider public," he said.

Following his acquittal and outside court, Stuart Olding in a statement said he "deeply regretted" the events of the night in question stressing he had committed no criminal offence. He said the portrayal of him throughout the trial "was not the real Stuart Olding".

Also suspended from play pending an internal review was Craig Gilroy, who was revealed to have sent a sexually explicit text message which was used as evidence in the trial.  He was not connected in anyway to the rape allegations.

He too apologised saying he was "deeply sorry" and the message was "totally inappropriate".

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Craig Gilroy

An advertisement was taken in the Belfast Telegraph calling for the players not to be allowed to play again for the province and Ireland, while a petition has been started calling for their immediate reinstatement.

In a statement posted on the Official Ulster Rugby Supporters Club (URSC) by chairman Jonathan Bill, the organisation said it "doubted" any of its members were involved in the advert.

"The URSC can further confirm that it has received no calls from its membership for the aforementioned players to be banned from playing for Ulster, on the contrary, the vast majority of members have made it clear they wish to see their early reinstatement to playing duties.

"Indeed many have made it clear that if this is not the case it will strongly influence  their decision on  season ticket renewal or their future Kingspan attendance. URSC is concerned that if such is the case, the numbers involved could impact adversely on support for the team and income for Ulster Rugby through the ticket sales. "

The organisation, which was established in 2004 describes itself as the "official independent supporters club of Ulster Rugby," it called on all supporters to get behind the team for the final two games of the season at the Kingspan.

It added: "The URSC acknowledges that recent events involving Stuart Olding, Paddy Jackson and Craig Gilroy have been difficult and traumatic for all involved. The URSC respects both the judicial outcome and the IRFU review process which it regards as a matter solely for the players and their employer."

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