Rugby authorities must send out clear message
As the fallout from last week's rape trial continues, pressure is growing on the rugby authorities to send out a clear message over the conduct of Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding in relation to messages which were disclosed as part of the court proceedings.
While the two Ireland and Ulster players were unanimously acquitted following a gruelling nine-week trial before a jury at Belfast Crown Court, attention has switched to the offensive and derogatory nature of messages sent by the defendants which formed part of the case.
In particular, the exchanges contained in a WhatsApp group have created intense comment on social media and raised questions about the players' attitude towards women.
It is also clear this issue goes wider than the defendants as it has now been confirmed that a third Ireland player, Craig Gilroy, was part of the WhatsApp group and had sent a grossly offensive message to Stuart Olding, the day after the party at Paddy Jackson’s house in June 2016.
Ulster Rugby and the IRFU will be well aware of the damaging headlines that have followed the conclusion of the trial and it is obvious that a not guilty verdict does not mean this matter is closed. Far from it.
As we have seen in recent days, this case has sparked unprecedented protests in cities throughout Ireland with thousands of people taking to the streets to express their concerns.
Now we are told that a rally is planned for outside the Kingspan stadium in south Belfast on Friday April 13 when Ulster's next home match takes place.
This is undoubtedly a very difficult time for Ulster Rugby and the IRFU which would much prefer to be dealing with issues directly related to what happens on the pitch.
Indeed, in its first press conference since the end of the trial, Ulster Rugby yesterday refused to answer any questions about Paddy Jackson or Stuart Olding, both of whom are under contract to remain at Ulster until 2019, and tried to keep the subject on purely sporting matters.
We know that Ulster Rugby is carrying out a review following the court case and this will involve the IRFU but we do not know how long this process will take or when any report will be finalised.
Meanwhile, the clamour around this case shows little sign of abating and it will be hard for the rugby authorities to sustain an approach of saying virtually nothing, particularly over issues such as releasing the players' code of conduct, which should be made available.
There are legitimate questions for the sport arising from this case and the authorities must be open with fans and the wider public.