Ulster Rugby fans rule out protest over sacking of Jackson and Olding

An official Ulster Rugby fans group has ruled out a protest against the sacking of rape acquitted stars Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding.

Ulster Rugby Supporters Club had canvassed members on potential action around this Saturday's PRO14 home game against Glasgow, in the form of a demonstration or boycott.

One in three respondents said they were appalled by the decision to axe the duo and urged one or other of the protest options.

However, more supporters (45%) said their disappointment should be conveyed in the form of a letter.

The supporters group said it would write to Ulster Rugby and the Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU) to state its "considerable dissatisfaction and disgust at the recent turn of events".

It said while a protest at the Kingspan stadium in Belfast would be "cathartic and no doubt headline grabbing" it would have "little impact on the hierarchy of either the IRFU or Ulster Rugby".

From a membership of around 930, 390 responded to the survey issued after the weekend decision by Ulster Rugby and the IRFU to terminate Jackson and Olding's contracts.

Only 17 (4%) selected the option "Pleased they are gone, they have brought disgrace to Ulster Rugby".

Jackson, 26, and Olding, 25, were found not guilty last month of raping a woman at a house party in June 2016, but other aspects of their behaviour was heavily criticised, with major sponsors of Ulster Rugby voicing concern.

An internal review by the IRFU and Ulster Rugby after the acquittals focused on a series of sexually explicit WhatsApp conversations involving the players and their friends about the sexual encounter at the centre of the trial.

The messages, which referred to women in derogatory terms, were presented as evidence during the nine-week trial at Belfast Crown Court.

A statement from Ulster Rugby Supporters Club said a protest would probably have an adverse impact on the team in the closing stages of the season and would be disrespectful to players such as winger Tommy Bowe, as Saturday's encounter marks his last home game for the province.

"The URSC will therefore be writing to IRFU/Ulster Rugby next week to express members' considerable dissatisfaction and disgust at the recent turn of events," said the statement.

This has been a grim period in Ulster Rugby's justifiably proud history. It has proved horribly divisive and distracting. Whilst some cannot forgive and others certainly won't forget, it's now time to move forward. To use our own mantra, it's now time to SUFTUM (Stand up for the Ulster men).

"In particular, URSC reiterates its call to supporters to stand as one with the team on Saturday.

"Finally, URSC notes that Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding have apologised fulsomely for their behaviour which they have admitted was below acceptable standards. The URSC would like to thank the players for their on-field efforts for both Ulster and Ireland and wish them well in their rugby futures, wherever that may be."

On Monday, Ulster Rugby's chief executive Shane Logan insisted money or sponsors' wishes did not drive the decision to axe the duo.

He said both men had made a "serious mistake" and had fallen "way short" of the standards expected of professional rugby players.

Jackson and Olding had been accused of raping a woman at a party at Jackson's home.

Last month, a jury of eight men and three women found the players unanimously not guilty of rape after deliberating for three hours and 45 minutes.

All jurors also acquitted Jackson of sexual assault.

Two other men, Blane McIlroy, 26, and Rory Harrison, 25, were also unanimously acquitted of lesser charges connected to the case.

- Press Association

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