Belfast Telegraph

Brendan Mulgrew: Ulster Rugby's head in the sand approach smacks of censorship

By Brendan Mulgrew

From whatever angle you look at it, this has been a bad year for Ulster Rugby.

As a casual supporter who attends the odd game and follows the fortunes of the team on TV this is disappointing, and I imagine that the season ticket fans are in despair at the results over the course of the year as they cling to the hope that European rugby for next season can be salvaged though a play-off game at home to Ospreys.

However, supporters do get over poor performances, that's the nature of sport, and they return again to back their team, whatever the code.

It is with off the field matters that Ulster have really let themselves down; from the ill thought-out response to the trial outcome, despite having nine weeks to plan and prepare, to the subsequent and ongoing row over which journalists can or cannot attend pre-match Press conferences, Ulster Rugby's handling has been inconsistent, inadequate and unbalanced.

There may be an argument that to throw open the doors of the Kingspan Stadium to all Press would lead to a media scrum, but even if that is the case, so be it, let it happen in a managed way.

The alternative is to deny access to some journalists while admitting others, and no matter how that is dressed up, it smacks of censorship, and that is never a good thing.

Ulster Rugby should accept and acknowledge the level of interest which surrounds them at the moment, with the story going off at new angles on a regular basis. There are legitimate questions to be asked and answered and the head in the sand approach allows for the charge of arrogance to be levelled and the feeling to grow that Ulster Rugby doesn't actually care how it is perceived.

For a sporting organisation relying on the support of its loyal fanbase and the wider public, alongside the ongoing commitment from a number of corporate sponsors, that's a dangerous road to go down.

Let the journalists in, nominate someone from within the organisation to answer, as far as possible, those questions which go beyond the scope of the next match, and let the rugby and sports journalists put their rugby-only questions to the players or coach who is nominated to attend for that purpose.

By doing this at least once Ulster Rugby will take away the stick with which their reputation is currently being beaten.

Brendan Mulgrew is managing partner of communications consultancy MW Advocate

Belfast Telegraph

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