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Ulster Rugby moves to clarify exclusion of news reporters

By Claire Williamson

Ulster Rugby has admitted it did not hold a formal consultation with the sport's reporters before restricting news journalists from a press conference.

News reporters were banned from attending the event at Kingspan on Tuesday with only "regular attendees" granted access.

There has been intense media interest in the press conferences following the trial of Ulster Rugby players Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding.

Ulster Rugby and the Irish Rugby Football Union (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.

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.

In a statement at the time Ulster Rugby said the decision to restrict the press conference followed "consultation with regular press conference attendees".

It read: "The attendance of non-sport journalists at recent match week media events has caused significant disruption to regular attendees, who have been negatively impacted to the extent that they have been unable to access sufficient information and content for the days leading up to that week's game.

"Therefore, following consultation with regular press conference attendees, it was decided that access to this week's event would be restricted to sport journalists only."

However, a body of 11 rugby reporters who regularly cover Ulster, disputed the statement and wrote an email to Ulster Rugby asking them to clarify the comments.

They claimed in the email that there was no formal consultation and that they would not have agreed to prevent other journalists attending.

And in a statement yesterday Ulster Rugby admitted no "formal consultation" took place with rugby journalists - rather they "did engage with several rugby writers".

It said: "While a formal consultation process with all rugby journalists in Ulster did not take place, Ulster Rugby did engage with several rugby writers, all of whom are in the number of 11 who have subsequently written to us, and all of whom raised concerns about the conduct of news journalists who had attended a recent press conference.

"The feedback from these conversations formed the basis of the action taken by Ulster Rugby, which was in the interests of delivering a meaningful, useful match-week press conference, as required by tournament organisers."

The rugby reporters who sent the email welcomed Ulster Rugby's statement.

They said: "We welcome the acknowledgement that no regular attendees of press conferences undertook in a formal consultation process that resulted in fellow journalists being banned from a Kingspan Stadium media event. It was not a stance we would, or could, support."

The team's official supporters' club URSC ruled out a protest at today's PRO14 game against Glasgow in Belfast - after a demonstration or boycott was suggested.

Ulster Rugby supporters canvassed members on potential action around the decision to sack the players.

Instead, members will write to Ulster Rugby and the IRFU expressing their disappointment at the decision to tear up the pair's contracts.

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