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Monday 22 October 2018

Decision due on Jackson and Olding's contracts

Paddy Jackson's future has been reviewed by the IRFU after a nine-week trial found him not guilty of rape. Photo: Niall Carson/PA
Paddy Jackson's future has been reviewed by the IRFU after a nine-week trial found him not guilty of rape. Photo: Niall Carson/PA

The rugby ruling body is expected to announce its decision on the contracts of Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding today.

It is understood the internal review concluded on Wednesday and the players have been informed of the outcome, but an Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU) source maintained there were still loose ends to be tied up.

Both players were cleared of a rape charge a fortnight ago after a nine-week trial at Belfast Crown Court. In addition, Jackson was found not guilty of sexual assault.

Their positions remained under scrutiny as support became polarised.

The pair have been suspended by Ulster Rugby while this review takes place.

Lurid

Despite being acquitted, lurid WhatsApp messages sent by the players - which were used as evidence in court - have prompted a backlash from some who do not want to see them play for Ulster or Ireland again.

When contacted by the Herald, a spokesman for Ulster Rugby said they would not be discussing the matter until the review is concluded.

Stuart Olding has been the subject of a review by the IRFU after a nine-week trial found him not guilty of rape. Photo: Niall Carson/PA
Stuart Olding has been the subject of a review by the IRFU after a nine-week trial found him not guilty of rape. Photo: Niall Carson/PA

"The IRFU and Ulster Rugby have advised that a review process is under way and it would be inappropriate to comment on any matter pertaining to that process until it is completed," he said.

One of the club's main sponsors also said it was reviewing the situation.

Bank of Ireland - whose name and logo appear on the back of Ulster jerseys - said it was "highly concerned".

"The bank has formally conveyed these concerns to the chief executive of Ulster Rugby," it said.

"It is of paramount importance to Bank of Ireland that our sponsorship activity aligns with and supports our core values, and reflects positively on Bank of Ireland through association.

"We understand that an internal review is under way. We expect this review to be robust, to fully address the issues raised, and that decisions will be taken - and policies and protocols put in place - that fully address the issues that have arisen."

However, a number of former players have called for the players to be reinstated.

Earlier this week, Ireland legend Willie John McBride said that it was time "they were back playing rugby again".

McBride, who is the president of the Ulster Rugby Supporters' Club, appeared on RTE's Sean O'Rourke radio show.

"The guys have come through a very traumatic couple of months," he said.

"They have been tried every day walking out of the court.

"They have been found not guilty and now you have some people saying 'get rid of them', which is totally unfair because these guys are not guilty.

"As far as I'm concerned, these young men, I think, have learned their lesson.

"All of them have issued their regrets and their sadness about the affair, and I think it is time that they got back to doing what they do best, and that is playing rugby."

Former Ulster and Ireland star Neil Best also felt the two players should be kept on by Ulster Rugby.

"Rather than suspending or sacking them, maybe Ulster should seek to further educate them on the standards and attitudes it expects and review current programmes to minimise the prospect of one of their system's products ever remotely becoming involved in anything like this again," he said in a column for Rugby Pass.

Around 250 people staged a protest outside Ulster Rugby's stadium last night ahead of the team's first home game since the two players were acquitted of rape.

Solidarity

Demonstrators gathered outside the Kingspan Stadium in Belfast ahead of Ulster's Pro14 match against the Ospreys to express solidarity with the woman at the centre of the case and call for changes to how complainants in rape trials are treated by the criminal justice system.

They also called for action against what they claim is a misogynistic culture within rugby.

The protest was organised by the Belfast Feminist Network.

Participant Aisling Cowan, who travelled from Larne, Co Antrim, to attend, said: "We want to see a change at Ulster Rugby. This is about a toxic masculine culture that was really clear and became very prevalent during the trial.

"I am here to stand shoulder to shoulder with people to say women deserve better.

"We are not second-class citizens in Northern Ireland and we deserve to be treated just as well as the Ulster men."

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