Campaigners applaud sacking of rape trial pair
Sponsor raised concerns with Ulster chief Logan France and Japan are likely destinations for the players
Campaigners against sexual violence yesterday applauded the sackings by Ireland and Ulster of Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding, amid the acrimonious fallout from the players’ rape trial.
The Irish Rugby Football Union and their club confirmed the pair’s departure following an internal review into their conduct launched in the wake of their acquittal last month at Belfast Crown Court. It is believed sponsors played a key role in the decision.
Team-mate Craig Gilroy was also suspended until April 26 over a sexually-explicit WhatsApp message used as evidence in Jackson and Olding’s nine-week trial. The pair were sacked after other such messages were exposed during the case, including one in which the latter wrote: “There was a lot of spitroasting going on last night fellas.”
The Belfast Feminist Network, which mounted a Friday-night demonstration outside Ulster’s stadium ahead of their first home game since the trial, said: “We are pleased to hear that those players who have exposed themselves as misogynistic will no longer be representing Ulster Rugby. We see this as a victory for all the people who joined with us to say that they could not accept anything less than full accountability.
“Ulster Rugby has work to do if it wants to convince us that they will take action against sexism and ensure things like this do not happen again. We look forward to hearing how they intend to do this.” Confirming both players’ contracts had been revoked with immediate effect, the IRFU and Ulster said they “acknowledge our responsibility and commitment to the core values of the game: Respect, Inclusivity and Integrity”.
The decision was announced two days after one of the club’s biggest sponsors, Bank of Ireland, revealed it had raised concerns related to the outcome of the players’ trial with Ulster chief executive Shane Logan. Another, stadium sponsor Kingspan, was also said to have expressed reservations. It followed huge demonstrations in Belfast, Londonderry, Cork, Limerick, Galway, Dublin and London in response to the not-guilty verdict, with protesters marching under placards proclaiming the hashtag #IBelieveHer.
Those wanting Jackson and Olding to be sacked also took out a prominent newspaper advert, which was countered last week by one funded by more than 100 Ulster supporters calling for the pair to be reinstated and attacking “the social media backlash” against the men. What was an intense debate on the players’ futures was also played out online, with thousands of people signing competing petitions reflecting their views.
Responding to his sacking, Jackson said he was “deeply disappointed”, before adding: “However, I recognise that my behaviour has fallen far short of the values expected of me as an international player, a role model for the game of rugby and as a son and a brother. I am truly sorry.” Olding added: “I said outside court that the Stuart Olding that you read about in the trial is not the real Stuart Olding.
“With the support of my family and friends, I shall seek new challenges elsewhere. I bear no one any ill will.
“I am very sorry that this day has come to pass.”
Capped 25 times and four times respectively, 26-year-old Jackson and 25-year-old Olding have been tipped to try to resurrect their careers in France or Japan. Any interest from within the British Isles, including from Premiership clubs, is likely to be met with a furious backlash.
In a nine-week trial that gripped Northern Ireland, a jury of eight men and three women unanimously found the players not guilty of raping a woman at a house party at Jackson’s home in June 2016 after deliberating for three hours and 45 minutes.
Jackson was also cleared of sexual assault, while two other men, Blane McIlroy, 26, and Rory Harrison, 25, were unanimously acquitted of lesser charges connected to the case.
Protest: Members of the Belfast Feminist Network demonstrate against Stuart Olding (inset left) and Paddy Jackson (inset right) outside Ulster’s ground