Content warning: rape
Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding have had their contracts terminated by Ulster Rugby, despite the professional rugby players being cleared of the rape allegations made against them in court last month.
The woman who made the accusation claimed that Jackson and Olding attacked her in the early hours of 28 June 2016 after she had returned to Jackson’s house with the accused after a night out in Belfast.
It was claimed that Jackson followed the woman into an upstairs room, where she was retrieving her clutch bag, and pressured her into having sexual intercourse with him. She said that Olding later entered the room and joined Jackson. The two men then posted messages describing the encounter as well as sharing a private text conversation about the alleged victim.
The two Irish international and Ulster rugby players were cleared of all charges on the grounds that there was not enough evidence to suggest the act was non-consensual.
Whilst the result of the 42-day trial was the one that Olding and Jackson hoped for, their lives have been drastically affected by the event, as their professional contracts have been terminated by Ulster and there are no other clubs publicly interested in acquiring their services.
Jackson and Olding have made appearances for the Irish national side but now they seem undesirable to clubs across the world, let alone international selectors.
The question of whether this is a fair outcome for two young men pales beneath the significance that it has for Ulster Rugby and their sponsors.
The nature of the allegation and trial means that there will still be controversy in the months and years to come, which the club and sponsors will not want to be associated with.
Ulster Rugby and the IRFU, Ireland’s rugby governing body, cited a “commitment to the core values of the game: Respect, Inclusivity and Integrity” when explaining their decision to cancel the contracts.
For Ulster’s sponsors, such as Bank of Ireland and Kingspan, who were believed to have greatly influenced Ulster’s decision, affiliation with people whom many view as rapists would be a PR disaster and something which would greatly affect their reputation and revenue.
It is a case that is particularly pertinent for university students. Whilst the high-profile nature of the figures involved in the trial may make this seem a particularly serious case, rape, sexual abuse and harrassment are problems that affect society every day, particularly at university.
University is typically a time where many people enjoy new sexual experiences. However, we should all be aware that this demands a great deal of responsibility and respect for others and their consent. Jackson and Olding, regardless of the case’s outcome, have paid the price with their sporting careers for not demonstrating this awareness.
Image: William Murphy