Belfast Telegraph

Vast majority of Ulster rugby fans appalled by sacking of Jackson and Olding

By Adrian Rutherford

Nearly 80% of Ulster Rugby fans who took part in a survey said they were "appalled" at the sacking of Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding.

But the team's official supporters' club (URSC) has ruled out a protest against the move.

Instead members will write to Ulster Rugby and the Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU) expressing their disappointment at the decision to tear up the pair's contracts.

The letter, to be sent next week, will "express members' considerable dissatisfaction and disgust".

It follows a survey of the supporters' club's 938 members in recent days.

The URSC said: "This has been a grim period in Ulster Rugby's justifiably proud history." It added that the rape trial fallout had been "horribly divisive and distracting".

The club canvassed members on potential action around this Saturday's PRO14 game against Glasgow in Belfast, with a demonstration or boycott suggested.

One in three respondents who said they were appalled by the decision to axe the duo urged one or other of the protest options.

But committee members decided that protest action, while headline-grabbing, would have "little impact".

Jackson (26) and Olding (25) were unanimously cleared last month of raping the same woman in June 2016. Jackson was also unanimously acquitted of sexual assault.

At the weekend Ulster Rugby and the IRFU revoked their contracts following an internal review into their conduct.

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

The decision to axe the players has split opinion.

The URSC asked members if they agreed with the decision and whether a protest should be held on Saturday evening.

Members were asked to choose from one of five statements that best summed up their feelings.

The survey found 79% said they were disappointed or appalled by the outcome, with one in eight (13%) calling for a boycott of the game.

The full results, from the near 390 fans who took part, were:

  • 17 (4%) said they were "pleased" the players had gone;
  • 64 (16%) urged Ulster to move on, saying they supported the club, not individual players;
  • 176 (45%) said they were "disappointed but not surprised" - many changed 'disappointed' to 'appalled' - and backed sending a letter;
  • 80 (21%) said they were "appalled" and called for a protest at the Glasgow game;
  • 52 (13%) said they were "appalled" and wanted a boycott of Saturday's match.

In a statement, the supporters' club said: "Whilst all options received support, the results show a considerable majority of members were disappointed or appalled by the IRFU/Ulster Rugby sanctions in respect of Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding."

It said the URSC committee had "taken note" of the poll results, but believed protests would achieve little. "The committee also noted that whilst a third of members were appalled and wanted some form of protest, it was the committee's view that such action, whilst cathartic and no doubt headline-grabbing, would have little impact on the hierarchy of either the IRFU or Ulster Rugby," it added.

"Protest would also likely adversely affect the remaining playing squad for the last crucial matches of the season and would be disrespectful to players like Tommy Bowe making their final home appearance.

"The URSC will therefore be writing to IRFU/Ulster Rugby next week to express members' considerable dissatisfaction and disgust at the recent turn of events.

"This has been a grim period in Ulster Rugby's justifiably proud history. It has proved horribly divisive and distracting.

"Whilst some cannot forgive, and others certainly won't forget, it's now time to move forward. To use our own mantra, it's now time to SUFTUM (Stand Up For The Ulster Men).

"In particular, URSC reiterates its call to supporters to stand as one with the team on Saturday.

"Finally, URSC notes that Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding have apologised fulsomely for their behaviour, which they have admitted was below acceptable standards.

"The URSC would like to thank the players for their on-field efforts for both Ulster and Ireland and wish them well in their rugby futures, wherever that may be."

Belfast Telegraph

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