Northern Ireland

Complainant in Ulster rugby sexism row stands by action

Graffin Parke
Image caption Graffin Parke, pictured centre, made the alleged sexist comments at a dinner in Belfast last October

A man who complained about alleged sexist comments by a former Ulster rugby president at a dinner has said he would "do it again."

Graffin Parke apologised for any offence caused by his words.

However, he was subsequently suspended from representing Ulster Branch at any match or function until June 2019.

Graham Chipperfield objected to comments in a speech Mr Parke gave at a dinner in Cooke Rugby Club on 27 October 2018.

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Media captionUlster rugby sexism row: 'I said I'm sorry, but we've gone too far'

However, Mr Chipperfield himself was subsequently suspended from his post on Cooke's committee for two months for "breach of external communication protocols".

The club said he had failed to disclose at two committee meetings that he had contacted someone at Ulster Branch about the incident.

Mr Chipperfield is a retired rugby referee and a member of the committee at Cooke RFC, who are based in south Belfast.

At the time of the dinner he was also, separately, a member of the Ulster Branch Women's Committee.

'Thunder on the brow'

"I have three daughters - two daughters and a daughter-in-law," he said.

"They all play for Cooke, they've all played for Ulster and one is an Irish international and she hasn't been called this season but she's still on the cusp of getting into the Irish women's fifteen."

"When my daughters were selected to play for Ulster I was as happy as a dog with three tails - I thought it was terrific and I was seriously hoping that one of my daughters would one day pull on a green shirt and play for Ireland."

Mr Chipperfield said more than 80 people were present at Cooke's annual dinner in the Cooke clubhouse on the night in question in October 2018.

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Image caption Graham Chipperfield, who made the complaint, was himself sanctioned

Graffin Parke was president of the Irish Rugby Football Union's (IRFU) Ulster branch throughout the 2017/18 season, and was the final speaker on the night.

Mr Chipperfield said that the dinner had been attended mostly by men but some women players were also present.

"On my table I had myself and my wife, my two daughters, their partners and three other girls from our women's first and second fifteen," he said.

Mr Chipperfield claimed that Mr Parke's speech contained inappropriate sexist comments.

'Felt very strongly about it'

"I glanced at the ladies on my table and I could see thunder on their brow," he said.

"At that stage I stood up, and I said 'look' - my words were 'I'm sorry gentlemen, I know this is a rugby club - i.e. things are expected or happen at a rugby club at dinners - but we've gone too far, I think this is inappropriate,' and I sat down.

"At the time I felt very strongly about it.

"I wouldn't have got up and said something otherwise."

"I would have just sat there - fat, dumb and happy, and let everybody be insulted." added Mr Chipperfield.

He said that, as a courtesy, he had emailed the chair of the Ulster Branch Women's Committee on Sunday 28 October to inform her of what had happened.

However, when events at the dinner were subsequently discussed at committee meetings at Cooke on 29 October and 5 November Mr Chipperfield did not reveal he had sent that email.

"I felt it had nothing to do with the Cooke committee on the first Monday because it was between me and the chair of the women's committee," he said.

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Image caption More than 80 people were present at Cooke RFC's annual dinner

"It would have had no impact on what had happened; I couldn't see that it would cause any problems whatsoever so it was my choice, my decision."

"In my naivety - and this was pointed out to me by members of the committee - by speaking to the chair that was the Ulster Branch."

Mr Chipperfield was summoned to a club disciplinary meeting in December but refused to attend.

Opportunity to 'take a stand'

The Cooke committee subsequently suspended Mr Chipperfield for two months for "breach of external communication protocols and repeated failure to disclose the breach."

"As a consequence of his actions, the member was informed that he would not be permitted to attend the next two executive committee meetings," the club said.

"This was considered a minor sanction and his membership of Cooke RFC is unaffected by the decision."

But Mr Chipperfield said he felt Cooke had handled things badly.

"They had an opportunity to stand up and make a stand for women's rugby, to say this is not acceptable.

"An ex-president of the branch standing up, not being aware that there are young women in the audience and making totally inappropriate sexist misogynist jokes - totally unacceptable.

"And they had a chance to say we cut ourselves off from that, as far as we are concerned we don't want to see Mr Parke back at Cooke ever and make a stand and they didn't."

"But I'd go back and if it happened I'd stand up and do it again," he added.

'Regrettable'

In response to Mr Chipperfield's comments, Cooke said in a statement they "refuted entirely allegations of unfairness in club disciplinary processes made by this member".

"Cooke RFC is proud to be regarded as a welcoming and inclusive sports club and works hard to maintain this long-established reputation."

"It is regrettable that one of its members would appear to choose to portray the club as otherwise."

Meanwhile, in a statement, Ulster Rugby confirmed that Graffin Parke was subsequently sanctioned following an investigation.

"Following comments made by one of its members at a club dinner in October 2018, the Ulster Branch of the IRFU established a review panel to look into the matter," they said.

"A review was undertaken in November 2018, and the member was suspended, with immediate effect, from representing the Branch at any match or function until June 2019."

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