Northern Ireland

Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding's contracts revoked

Stuart Olding and Paddy Jackson Image copyright PA
Image caption Stuart Olding and Paddy Jackson were cleared of rape charges after a nine-week trial in Belfast

Ulster and Ireland rugby players Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding have had their contracts terminated.

Last month, the players were cleared of rape after a nine-week trial.

In a joint statement on Saturday, the IRFU and Ulster said their contracts have been revoked with "immediate effect".

While the pair were cleared of rape, there had been controversy over social media and text messages they had exchanged.

The IRFU/Ulster Rugby statement said: "In arriving at this decision, the Irish Rugby Football Union and Ulster Rugby acknowledge our responsibility and commitment to the core values of the game: Respect, inclusivity and integrity.

"It has been agreed, as part of this commitment, to conduct an in-depth review of existing structures and educational programmes, within the game in Ireland, to ensure the importance of these core values is clearly understood, supported and practised at every level of the game."

They also said that Ulster and Ireland winger Craig Gilroy has been sanctioned over a text message he sent to Stuart Olding.

He will be unavailable for selection by Ulster until 26 April 2018.

Image copyright Pacemaker
Image caption Dozens of people staged a protest outside the Kingspan Stadium in Belfast on Friday night

Mr Jackson and Mr Olding were cleared of raping the same woman in Mr Jackson's house in the early hours of 28 June 2016.

Two other men, Blane McIlroy, who was accused of exposure, and Rory Harrison, who was charged with perverting the course of justice and withholding information, were also found not guilty.

'Sadness and regret'

In a statement to the Press Association Mr Jackson said he was "deeply disappointed" about the outcome of the IRFU and Ulster Rugby's internal review, which was announced after the rape trial ended.

"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," he said.

"Since I was a young boy it was my ambition to play for Ulster and Ireland and I am extremely proud, privileged and honoured to have done so.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Paddy Jackson has played 25 times for Ireland at outhalf

"It is therefore with great sadness and regret, but with many cherished memories, that I leave that behind."

'I bear no-one any ill will'

Mr Olding also issued a statement: "It is with regret that I have been informed that the IRFU have decided to revoke my contract."

He added: "I very much wished to continue to have the opportunity to represent them [Ulster and Ireland].

"Regrettably, influences outside of my contractual arrangement have made it impossible for that to happen.

"I said outside court that the Stuart Olding that you read about in the trial is not the real Stuart Olding.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Stuart Olding said "influences outside of my contractual arrangement" have made it impossible for him to continue playing for Ulster and Ireland

"The treatment that I have received since my acquittal, both fair and unfair, has made me even more determined to prove myself.

"With the support of my family and friends I shall seek new challenges elsewhere. I bear no-one any ill will."

On Sunday, a former Ulster and Ireland rugby player told the BBC that he sensed anger among fans in the wake of the decision to let the players go.

'Monetary decision'

Paddy Wallace said such supporters may "vote with their feet" as they believe their views were not taken into consideration in the decision-making process, and that the move was simply motivated by money.

"Ulster felt they needed to protect their sponsors rather than the players involved," he said.

Image caption Paddy Wallace said fans who believe their views were not reflected in the decision may "vote with their feet"

"That could come back to bite them, because a lot of the supporters are thinking: 'Do I renew my season ticket, do I come to the games, do I put money across the bar?'

"The CEO Shane Logan has been invisible through this whole process and a lot of fans are very disgruntled about that.

"Some are feeling a disconnect and the easiest thing to do is vote with their feet."

Protest held

On Friday evening, dozens of people staged a protest outside the Kingspan Stadium in Belfast ahead of Ulster Rugby's match against Ospreys.

The rally was organised by Belfast Feminist Network.

Last week, a crowd-funded advertisement was taken out in a Belfast newspaper calling for Mr Jackson and Mr Olding to be dropped by Ulster and Ireland.

It described the Whatsapp messages that emerged during the trial as "reprehensible". Mr Jackson later apologised for the messages.

However, a separate advert was published days later, calling on Ulster and Irish rugby to reinstate "innocent men" to playing duties.

That advert was signed by "real fans standing up for the Ulster men".

On Thursday, one of Ulster Rugby's key sponsors, Bank of Ireland, said it was "highly concerned" by issues arising out of the rape trial.

In a statement on Saturday, it said: "We welcome the in-depth review of structures and education programmes which has been announced today, and look forward to the recommendations which arise being put into effect."

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